Month: September 2020

Chapter 87: Watching the Games

I, Eryk Solbourne, am confused!!!

Just moments ago, I was staring at the listings of various ice cream varieties at this beachside food stand. Now, ice cream is something that certainly does exist on Mystix, but I tended to stay in the warmer climates where such a delicacy was rare and often nonexistent.

I saw quite distinctly that the price of a vanilla ice cream cone was set at 120 Barb Bucks. The true conversion between one dollar and Barb Bucks has eluded me for quite some time, but this seems like a reasonable price for a commodity such as a frozen treat. However, it is not 120 Barb Bucks anymore. It is 134.

Why? What happened? Do my eyes deceive me? Is this a sign that my entire life on Earth is an illusion like my sibling Rare suggested? Or is this a devious trick by the Santa Barbarans to force “shoobies” to pay more money for the same good?

All of the ice cream prices have changed, in fact. They were all around the same number, but now the pecan butter flavor is 800 Barb Bucks while the mint chocolate flavor is a measly 98. How does anyone make a life out of this city if they do not know the price of bread or have the knowledge that their morning coffee cake will be just as reliable as the day before?

“Sir, Mister ice cream man,” I say to the grizzled, bearded, overweight man manning the ice cream stand, “are the ice cream prices truly shifting up on that board as we have our own conversation?”

The man groans. “Ugh, shoobies. Yes, the prices change. It’s just the way we do things around here. It’s all tied to the wavecoin. I don’t get a say over it. Neither do you.”

“I see…” I rub my chin with my fingers and try to figure out a path.

“What’ll it be, kid? Hurry up. You’re holding up the line.”

“I will choose…” I stare at the board of prices very carefully. They have shifted once again. Now mint chocolate chip is up to 800 Barb Bucks, in a horrible twist of fate. The cheapest one now seems to be… fish and chips. But that’s what Delta and I ate for lunch! (By the way, from a few new meals I’m up to 70 Destiny Points, but I forgot to say anything about it.) Could such a meal be had in the form of ice cream? Well, it’s only 65 Barb Bucks, so I might as well try it. “I will choose the fish and chips ice cream! Three, please.”

The ice cream man scoffs. “Your funeral.”

“No, sir, this is not a funeral. This is a celebration of good taste.”

He does not respond. I assume this is because I have “owned” him with the power of my words. So I swipe my phone across a beam of light, and it beeps. Apparently, the currency has transferred from me to him. All automatic, all digital. I don’t understand any of it, especially not when I was forced to pay 67 Barb Bucks per cone instead of the 65 I expected.

I carry all three ice cream cones with one hand and walk further into the beach, close to the shoreline where many people are gathered to watch the tides flow in and out. I find Delta and Francis and hand them their ice cream.

“Oh, hey, how’d it go, buying something on your own for the first time?” Francis asked. “Was it cool and fun?” He takes the fish and chips ice cream cone and eyes its golden crispy flakes with mild curiosity.

“I am no child, you know,” I tell him. “I have purchased and sold many goods in my life. Likely far more than you.”

“I don’t know, man. I have a merch shop and everything,” he replies.

“Eryk, what flavor is this?” Delta asks as she licks the ice cream tepidly. “It doesn’t… taste right.”

“The prices at the ice cream stand kept changing every minute or so, and I was unable to pinpoint the cheapest item very carefully. But, as far as I am aware, the cheapest item at the time of my purchase, and the one I chose, was fish and chips flavor.”

Delta spits the ice cream out. “Bluh!”

Francis recoils back. “Fish and chips? That sounds awful.”

“In what way?” I take a few bites of the ice cream myself. It has a rich, savory flavor, with a hint of vanilla added in. Quite delectable. “I find no qualms with this whatsoever. It is an enjoyable treat.”


[+1 DP.]

[Total: 71 DP.] Yay, More Destiny for me. I ought to level up again soon, but then again I have some pretty big choices in that regard…

“Maybe for a weirdo!” Delta shouts. “This is disgusting.”

Francis looks at the ice cream again, and then tries it himself. After a moment of reflection, he smiles. “It’s really bad, but I think I like it.”

“That is not a sentiment I can find much solace in, but I will respect your opinion nonetheless,” I say to him.

Delta, annoyed, throws her ice cream cone on the ground.

“Don’t litter!” Francis exclaims. “That’s rude!”

“It’s biodegradable. Don’t worry,” she says.

Just then, several beachgoers approach us, doing that famed “punching their fist into their palm” gesture. One of them shouts, “Hey! Look at these shoobies dropping their crap on our beach!”

Francis and I glare at Delta. This may be the first time that she is the direct cause of our problems, and not one of us two. She deserves all of this scorn.

“We do not mean to offend! It was a misunderstanding as to the nature of your disposal programs.” I try to reason with them, but it does not succeed at all.

“Let’s pound these kelp crusts!” one of the surfer men suggests, continuing to hit his fist against his palm. Actually, all of them are still doing it, locked in a rhythmic sync. For some reason, I can hear the sound of snapping echoing from behind me. I figure a large brawl is about to break up.

But then, when they get a better look at us, or more importantly me, those menacing looks vanish almost instantly. I think they know of my power.

“Actually, uh, you know,” one of them says, “these guys are those heroes from Paso Robles that King Bodhi’s been talking about, right? I guess they get to live. Yeah.”

“Oh, right… Better not upset King Bodhi by gutting her VIDs too much.”

One of them points at Delta with a stern finger. “You shoobies better not be doing stuff like this anymore. We got our eyes on you.” He is wearing sunglasses, so it is impossible to know whether or not he is telling the truth.

Still, they leave us be. I am glad that my friends will come to no harm, but I am sad that I cannot “grind” up Destiny Points, as Francis often says, by pummeling all of these surfers until they no longer provide me any points due to their weak nature. Let us hope that something arises wherein I can defeat a large number of opponents for maximum progress.

I hear that in some parts of Mystix, those with the Destiny Deck System as a part of their person do not perform the normal Class Actions that allow them to gain ranks. Instead, they sit and perform specialized meditations. They cultivate new achievements that exist solely on the planes of existence created in their own minds. For instance, an [Adventurer] in those places does not simply explore new realms, try new foods, or defeat opponents. No, an [Adventurer] there opens their third eye and cultivates imagined experiences that result in a feeling of accomplishment and a sense of awe. They are able to gain Destiny Points from the comfort of their own mind.

It is not something I could ever do; I am simply not patient enough to undergo something as rigorous and measured as cultivated meditation. But I wish I could. It would be remarkable to see a man as tall and muscled as me levitating in midair as I cultivate new powers.

Here on Earth, I doubt cultivation is even possible, so I will decline to think of that further, and instead think solely on the potential for new Class Actions in front of my eyes.

And there is one right there in front of my very eyes…

The Great Barbara Games, a festival celebrating the anniversary of Santa Barbara’s independence from California, is going on right now. Many surfers ride the waves on their surf boards, spinning around rapidly and performing amazing tricks. A hauntingly beautiful tone of a language I cannot place croons out over the speakers, and the surfers move in sync with it.

“What is this music?” I ask Francis. “Do you know?”

“This is Yamashita Tatsuro,” he says. “He’s the main Japanese City Pop musician from way back in the seventies and eighties. This song is… “Sparkle,” I think it’s called? I forget. But he’s like the Beach Boys, just Japanese.”

“What is this ‘Japanese’ you speak of? I hear only… Wait a minute. Is this Elven? Wait, ‘Sparkle,’ that’s it. I can make out some of the words now.”

Francis opens his mouth to speak, but then puts his hand on his jaw and pushes it back shut. He declines to press any further on the matter.

So Earth has the Elven language, but not the Elven people. Malia would be interested to hear that. Thalia, too, were she still alive back on Mystix. Alas…

I am still immersed by the synchronized surfing competition going on. These women and men and others who simply glide along the surface of the water on wooden boards, taking no heed to the fact that they are in serious danger if they ever fall off or are otherwise overtaken by the waters.

No sense of fear. Only excitement. Only passion and ambition.

These surfers are like me.

Very interesting, indeed…

Special: Francis Rants About Video Games

Francis loves video games.

So do most people on Earth in the year 2023, after all.

Video games are a multi-billion-dollar industry that entertain billions of people every year in all facets. Fandoms emerge for the smallest possible titles, and entire political movements form from those gamers who rise up from their chairs and march in the streets.

Francis Bacall, of course, is one part of that massive industry. A drop in the bucket, when all is said and done, but still an influencer to the highest degree. What he says directly impacts the opinions of hundreds of thousands of followers. Those followers then spread that message to others, and soon enough, Francis’s words go viral.

A year ago, he single-handedly revived the once-dead phenomenon known as “All Your Base Are Belong To Us” simply by making enough aggressively ironic memes about it on Y-Cast streams. Soon enough, Zero Wing returned to the cultural sphere and CATS himself became the brand spokesman for Red Bull in a few commercials. Somehow, Lionsgate picked up the rights to a Zero Wing movie, with Antoine Fuqua in talks to direct. Francis himself, of course, did not receive a cent for any of that. But it demonstrated the sheer power his personality could demonstrate.

Eryk Solbourne may be a strong, overpowered warrior of fists and fury, but Francis Bacall is a strong, correctly powered warrior of voice and keyboard.

And the next project he wants to embark on? Playing all the DS games of his childhood and introducing them to a whole new generation of streaming fans. He wants to innundate gaming culture with curiosity and nostalgia for what may have been the greatest period in all of video game history.

If he does it right, he has a chance to finally get Chibi-Robo to become a relevant franchise… but he has to do it right.

And, also, he has to actually find the games to be able to stream them.

Thus begins Francis’s new frantic quest to search for old video games in what some might consider a manic episode but Francis considers a new step in his career. Also technically he can use these games to help Eryk out but whatever.

This Get N Go here is pretty big, a lot bigger than a Gamestop would have been (RIP). And seeing as this may be one of the only used game stores in the entire Kingdom of Santa Barbara, it is likely to be the best selection they’ve got.

Francis has already figured out a streaming plan. His phone has a micro-USB port, and he knows that he can probably find a capture card somewhere in the store since that streamer boom in the early 20s oversaturated the market with countless products that were quickly discarded by the masses. Theoretically, if he just runs a Windows 7 virtual machine off his phone and uses one of those capture card programs, he’ll be able to stream 3DS games just fine. It will probably be harder in practice, but that’s the tough part of doing your day job while on a massive road trip to help your friend become a hero.

So as long as he has the ability to stream in his free time, that’s gonna be all he needs to keep the Bac-Nation going.

The Nintendo 3DS, first released in 2011, was the first hands-free 3D gaming system ever, and remains that way. Well, the model he has here is a New 2DS XL so it doesn’t have any of that, but still. The 3DS was the successor to the most popular handheld of all-time, but in the end sold far less due to a decline in casual gaming in the early 10s. Smartphone games took over and everyone caught the gacha game bug. But you can’t beat the classics, and the DS and 3Ds have got’em all.

The first game, already in his hands, is none other than the classic Electroplankton! It’s an interactive musical experience where you use plants and tiny fish to create sounds and, uh, do other stuff. It’s hard to explain, he realizes. The game is mostly known now for the awful Super Smash Bros. stage, and that is very sad because it could be so much more than that.

He’s already thinking of all the jamming tunes he could make with the game to impress Bac-Nation, then maybe get in a fake feud with Markiplier so they can both compete to make the best Electroplankton songs, and then bam it all goes viral for a week or two.

Another game just bred for post-ironic memery is the forgotten gem Henry Hatsworth in the Puzzling Adventure. It’s a good game that is very stressful, yeah, but it’s also got an amazing selling point—an old gentleman explorer character who looks goofy and can be repurposed as a fake sex symbol among those whose irony knows no bounds. Francis expects to see deepfaked Henry Hatsworth porn within a month after that game goes viral.

But wait, no, he’d probably be better off playing something a bit better-known and more fondly remembered, such as Kid Icarus Uprising. Most people have forgotten the game by now, but as soon as they remember the soundtrack and Pit’s awful puns and the addicting crafting system, they’ll be sucked right back in. Maybe Francis could help influence Nintendo to get off their asses and make a new one?

Then, maybe after that, he can help redeem all of society by giving Codename: S.T.E.A.M. a fair shot. The fact that they live on an Earth like this… Where a video game about steampunk fighters—sorry, steampunk fighters such as Abraham Lincoln and Tom Sawyer fighting against aliens who are trying to gain control of the Necronomicon—ended up flopping bigtime… it’s a travesty and a sign that Francis lived in one of the bad timelines, for sure. You can play as Ike from Fire Emblem for some reason! Why did this game even flop?!

…Probably because Francis didn’t play it, and neither did anyone else.

Steel Diver and its online-only sequel Steel Diver Sub Wars are two more prime candidates for a stupid walk through memory lane, too, and they are both here for just 20 Barb Bucks each. Why are they so cheap? Because Nintendo printed way too many copies due to not having enough games on their system. Nobody cares about Steel Diver… but everyone has a copy, and each store has about twenty in reserve.

Francis still isn’t sure how the money conversion works, though. Right now, the price says it’s worth 20 Barb Bucks. But he could have sworn that five minutes ago when he went down this aisle and it was only 17. The financial advisor Brett did say that prices change dynamically because they are tied to a cryptocurrency… but does that really extend to the prices on the shelf of a used game store?

Ugh, this place is awful. He really hopes they can leave soon.

Ooh, a copy of Picross 3D! But puzzle games don’t really work for streaming. He’d buy it, but he wouldn’t have time to truly treasure it.

You know, though? He really does need some games that will be guaranteed to help Eryk out in his own quest. Streaming is good, but they still have no idea the extent of what Eryk’s Class Action allowances are. He got a point for winning in a fighting game, but will it be the same if he beats, say, Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia? It’s a mystery.

So Francis should buy a few fighting games just in case.

Too bad that the 3DS and DS don’t really have very many of those…

The only ones here are a bunch of crappy anime fighting games. Not even Eryk could find those interesting… Well, the most famous one Jump Ultimate Stars, a big crossover of a hundred different mangas, is here and not too expensive, only 250 Barb Bucks—wait it’s 510—wait it’s 337. But that game is actually an import, and it’s all in Japanese. Will Eryk be able to follow along with that game? Well, if he needs help, Francis will be glad to lean over his shoulder and get really close to him to guide his way through the menus and tutorials.

In the end, the only games he finds that are convincingly enough of fighters that they will definitely work for Eryk are Marvel Nemesis: Rise of the Imperfects (he’s never heard of it) and Naruto: Ninja Destiny (some retro anime thing).

Those will have to do…

Francis loves video games. He wishes he could spend the entire day in Get N Go, reminiscing about titles like Chibi-Robo: Park Patrol and Pocket Card Jockey and other games of his youth. Alas, he is on a journey, and that journey requires sacrifices.

He still spends like seven thousand Barb Bucks on video games, though.

Chapter 86: We Haven’t Gone Shopping In a While… Or At All, Really

It has certainly been a long time since we indulged ourselves in the lovely art of shopping for new items. In fact, aside from a brief trip to buy a phone for me at Paso Robles, I don’t think we have really done any shopping of merit. Some junk food to help me gain Destiny Points here, some toiletries from vending machines there. Certainly no shopping that would make The Goddess herself raise her TV-shaped head in awe.

Time for a shopping spree!

Two million Barb Bucks appears to be a very good sum of money, at least by my estimate. As we entered this mall we are currently in, I saw a food stand with an apple, and that apple was marked at twelve Barb Bucks. I asked mathematics genius Francis how many apples we could buy, and he said about 150,000! That is a lot of apples! A gross of apples, even.

So with the expectation of up to 150,000 apples’ worth of goods to buy ahead, we enter this Santa Barbara Kelly Slater Memorial Plaza with blazing hearts set on one thing—spend spend spend!

“I love spending money,” I say to my two best friends on all of Earth.

“I never took you for a big shopper,” Delta says. “Especially when you carried all that loot around without even selling it.”

“Well, one must get the best prices for their goods before they can spend it,” I say. “I still have many items with which I could potentially barter, if we run out.”

“I really hope we don’t run out,” Francis says. “I don’t want to be poor again. I haven’t been poor in a really long time…”

“You have never been poor in your life, Francis,” Delta says. “You’re like the encyclopedia image for white privilege.”

“So are you!” he retorts.

“Persians are not white!”

“Iran is literally ‘Aryan’ in Persian.”

“We are not getting into this again.” Delta turns to me. “Eryk, let’s spend so much money our heads spin, okay?”


“Oh, fine,” Francis whines.

Because we lost everything from our hotel room in Paso Robles, all the way down to our clothing, we will have to replace all of it. I guess, technically, we could have gone back to the hotel after defeating the cultists and avoiding the rebel forces, but the city was going up in flames already and we didn’t want to risk it.

So now with nothing but the clothes on my back, our phones, and two million Barb Bucks, we’re ready to go.

First up: clothes shopping.

Clothes are one of the most interesting things in all of human society. They are what set us apart from each other and make us the fun, unique, productive sentients we are. They are expressions of personality, of taste, of the souls deep inside each and every one of us. These statements appear redundant and unnecessary, but I can assure that they are all necessary when talking about the cultural power of what we wear.

So imagine my surprise when I try on some nice outfits and my two friends give me suspicious and annoyed glares! The life-sized plastic dolls in front of the store showed some very nice outfits that interest me quite a lot. But after I change into them, it is as if I am committing some sort of crime…

I simply don’t understand Earth culture, even after so many days here…

“Eryk, you can’t…” Delta sighs. “I get it, I know, it’s just…”

Francis also sighs. “Sorry, Eryk.”

“What? I did nothing wrong!”

“You can’t wear skirts and blouses, Eryk,” Francis says. “That’s girl clothes.”

“But… That is ludicrous!” I exclaim. “I look stunning in this flowery pink dress, do I not? Pink is the color of power and honor in North Spiran culture. We compliment our hair and eyes with our manner of dress, and that extends to our casual everyday wear as well. I have long awaited my day to try on an outfit that suits me.”

I twirl around to let my skirt flow around in the air for a moment. It is striking.

“It’s just one of those modern injustices,” Francis explains to me, though I can hardly comprehend it. “For some reason, in the past two hundred or so years all clothes were just divided up into what’s acceptable and what’s not for girls or boys or others, and our entire culture is shaped by it. Nobody knows why skirts are only for girls but that’s just how it is now.”

“Why I never… How could the world be like this? I don’t really understand it at all.”

“Neither do we,” Delta says. “It’s just the way it is.”

“So I can’t wear skirts…”

They both shrug. “Well, you CAN,” Delta says.

“So I can, but it will not be socially acceptable in any way?”

They both shrug again. “We do live in California,” Francis says.

A fiery spirit builds up within me. “You know what? No! Skirts are a fundamental part of the honor of North Spire and I will not abandon it for some silly Earth culture nonsense. All six of my fathers wore skirts for formal occasions and as summer wear. I will do the same.”

They both shrug yet again.

And with that last shrug round, I make my purchase final with a set of six different skirts and blouses, along with swimwear to accommodate the fact that we reside in a beach city and may want to go to the ocean.

After this, it is time to gain fashionable clothing for the other two members of the Systemless Squad.

Francis’s choice of clothing seems to be entirely made up of t-shirts with graphic logos on them, as well as button-up plaid shirts to go over it. It seems a bit too hot for two layers, but then again I have been sporting an overcoat for much of my journey thus far. He also buys oversized shorts that have a large number of pockets. They appear to be referred to as “cargo shorts,” whatever that means.

Delta, on the other hand, goes into the changing room with a gigantic bundle of clothing in her arms and stays in there for what seems like eons.

What could she be doing in there? The entire time I have known her, she has worn nothing but formal clothing like dress shirts and skirts. Her style is as plain as an overcooked haven root.

But then I remember something—

—something that I completely forgot about until just now—

—something that completely redefines who Delta Rafati is in my mind—

—just as she exits the dressing room in her new dress.

She used to be a gothic lolita fashion fan! That type of clothing so popular it crosses into both Mystix and Earth. And right now she is wearing just such a dress!

It’s black and white, filled with frills and flowing all the way to the ground. There is even a bow tie at her breastplate that enhances her bare neck. If she had access to the correct dark makeup, she would already be fully ready to present herself as a Queen of Darkness.

Francis and I are both so shocked by this turn of events that we are unable to speak whatsoever.

And because neither of us speak, Delta’s neutral expression turns into an annoyed frown. “If it’s that bad, just say something, you assholes,” she says.

“No, no, you misunderstand,” I say. “It is wonderful. But it is simply… unexpected.”

“Yeah, didn’t you, like, totally lambast the entire concept of gothic lolita fashion a couple days ago?” Francis asks. “I can distinctly remember you saying that you hated me and wanted me to die when I talked about your cute phase.”

“Well… I changed my mind,” she says, her voice quivering. “I’m not some monolithic structure. I’m a human being. And… a cute one, too.” She certainly is giving off no hint of cuteness from her voice and expression, that is for sure.

“You’re really gonna wear that dress around Santa Barbara? Really? Just to help out the team?” Francis claps his hands together. His eyes sparkle. “What a wonderful human being. A lovely little gal.”

“No matter what I’m wearing, I can still punch you out.”

“What caused such a radical shift in your demeanor?” I ask. “Was it the perils we have faced these past few days? Was it the lack of fashionable sense here in Santa Barbara among the locals? Or was it that you believed you might be upstaged by my wonderful purchases that—”

Delta grabs me by the shoulders—

But lets go instead of pummeling me as she had a furious hankering to do. “Sometimes, Eryk, you just gotta shut up.”

“Yeah, Eryk,” says Francis. “My cutie pie here doesn’t have to answer all your rude questions.”

She glares at Francis and then goes back into the dressing room.

When she comes back out, she is again wearing her business casual outfit. In her arms are more sets of dress shirts and pants. No dresses.

…We defeated her. We poked fun at Delta’s demeanor so much that she immediately ceased her endeavor towards gothic lolita fashion. We are bullies.

I feel so guilty about this…

Well, at least we have actual sets of clothing now. And, soon after, we purchase suitcases as well so that we can fit our clothes into those portable wheeled boxes that make Earth travel so much more convenient. On Mystix, one must either use a horse, a zebra, or a carriage to transport large amounts of goods. Otherwise, it all must be carried on one’s back. Here on Earth, though, one can carry a large amount on their back and then roll two large suitcases behind, one on each hand. I imagine with great coordination one could even carry two in one hand.

Imagine the amount of materials one could move with the power of suitcases! It is like a home away from home, all wrapped up neatly in wheeled boxes.

Next, we take a stop at a place called “Get N Go.” It is some sort of electronics store. Here in the shop I see many of the same character artwork and visual design of the convention I was first reborn in all those days ago. The nostalgia flows into me. Oh, those simple times when I did not know what a cosplay was.

This store takes Francis for a wild ride of sorts. He frantically searches here and there and everywhere. He picks up many plastic cases and runs up to me. “Yo! There’s so many games I’ve got to show you,” he says. “Like Fortune Street. Man, you’d love that one. And Dragon Quest Heroes: Rocket Slime. And Stardew Valley. Plus, like, the whole Dungeon Core Saga Series. All of it.”

“I do not understand…”

“It’s video games! If winning in video game battles gives you Destiny Points, then you need to play a ton of them, and so portable games are exactly what we need,” he explains. “Anytime you’re not doing cool stuff like trying new food and seeing new sights, you should be grinding up your skills in the Foodie’s Enigma game. Or maybe the Blessed Time game.”

“Grinding… I forgot what that means already.”

Francis doesn’t answer, as he is immediately distracted by other plastic devices. “Holy crap, a used 3DS on sale for forty bucks! I gotta get this. Man, I haven’t played one of these in forever…”

“3DS. What is that?” I ask.

Delta answers for him. “Some stupid video game junk. Don’t worry about it.”

“I wonder if I can stream on this thing if I hook it up to my phone somehow…” Francis rambles to himself.

I turn to Delta. “What will become of him?”

“Nothing good,” she says. “We need to leave before he starts explaining old games to us for the next two hours.”

“I see… That does not sound like a pleasant fate. Might we go get something to eat?”

“You ever had fish and chips?”

“Never,” I say.

“Then let’s go get some.”

We leave the Get N Go video game store while Francis continues to look at all of the used games. I can hear him rant to himself all the way until I shut the door behind me.

Chapter 85: Barb Bucks

The knocked-out burly man is dragged out of the throne room, carried by three men all heaving as hard as they can.

Now having proven myself in the world’s oldest sport, I steal a look at King Bodhi with my most smug expression possible.

She looks positively pleased.

“You’re pretty good, Eryk Solbourne,” she says. “I’m almost impressed enough to clap.”

Almost… Darn, I am still not good enough.

“Well, then, I would like to continue the agreement we decided on before the test was to begin,” I say. “Free room and board, and the ability to trade our gold for your currency.”

King Bodhi makes a rapid series of snaps with her left hand, but does not break eye contact with me to look at the (blonde curly haired, tan) woman who approaches the throne in response. “Yes, your majesty?” the woman asks.

Still looking at me, she says, “Prepare the VID Suite postehaste. Our distinguished dudes shall be lavished with honor and praise for their revolutionary actions and for Eryk’s mighty strength.”

“Yes, ma’am,” the woman says. She bows and makes a hasty exit.

“We will see to it that you three are treated with the utmost care and respectability,” King Bodhi tells me. Normally, a phrase like that would make me slightly suspicious from the wording alone, but this teenage girl does not appear to have any malice in her heart. Her words ring true.

“I am glad for your hospitality,” I say. “Even despite the fact that you claimed to want to execute us just minutes ago.”

“My mood can change quickly. Pray it does not alter again.” She sits up and straightens her posture, then adds, “Now, as for your gold, we can offer a very good value. But I will let my financial advisor explain. Brett?”

Another shirtless young man who also has blonde, curly hair and tan skin enters the throne room and steps slightly in front of King Bodhi. This is Brett. “Santa Barbara has the most revolutionary currency system in the world. As the newest sovereign state recognized by the United Nations, we are expected to hold greatness for our government. But unlike the other 287 sovereign states, we have blazed a trail in modern technology and commerce to set us far apart.”

“Oh, I see.” I understand nothing.

“Instead of a traditional fiat currency, we have Burb Bucks. Santa Barbara’s own crypto-app currency,” he explains, to no avail to my understanding. “We use our vast servers outsourced from Silicon Valley to mine a cryptocurrency known as Wavecoin, which is in finite supply and the vast majority of it owned by the Kingdom itself. So these wavecoins act like the gold that once backed currencies all over the globe. But we do not use wavecoins for our actual currency. Instead, we use Barb Bucks, an in-city system that can be accessed from an app on all mobile devices. With the app, you can store money, exchange it for goods and services, and even earn more for watching paid ads or working at a Kingdom-sanctioned job.”

Delta leans in to whisper to Francis. “Do you follow any of this? Any of this at all?”

“No, not really,” he whispers back.

Brett continues. “Because we have full control over our currency system, we are not dependent on the US dollar except for the initial buy-in for new residents who wish to exchange their currency. You unfortunately cannot remove Barb Bucks out of the system, and you cannot trade them except for specific goods and services, so there is no way to convert Barb Bucks into foreign currency. You can only convert foreign currency into Barb Bucks. However, our exchange rates are tremendously generous. Even though the current wavecoin price is $15 USD to one wavecoin, we are currently offering a limited-time option: $50 for three hundred Barb Bucks!”

“But what is the normal, non-limited-time price for one wavecoin to Barb Bucks?” I ask. “I cannot compute the value here without—”

He ignores me. “Thanks to Santa Barbara’s highly connected financial system, our goods and services dynamically change price based on the Barb Buck’s value compared to the wavecoin. So you will never feel the need to be upset when the prices at stores do not match their value; they’re always changing!”

“I fear I am not intelligent enough to understand such a currency system as this. I simply wish to know how much you are willing to offer for these four gold bars.”

Brett turns back to King Bodhi and they begin discussing in hushed whispers about the situation. If only I hadn’t discarded the [Super Hearing] Destiny Card…!

After more than a little while of waiting, it appears that they are finally ready to announce a decision. Brett takes a deep breath, gulps, and says, “We will give you two million Barb Bucks.”

“That’s incredible! Huzzah!” I exclaim. “Wait, what is that in value? How many swords could I purchase, for instance? I am slightly confused.”

Brett refuses to elaborate. And with no further options, we are forced to accept it as-is. We take out our phones and have the two million placed in a joint account. If there is no lodging fee, then we certainly have a large amount of money to spend on whatever it is we want. We could replace the items we lost fleeing Paso Robles, or we could buy brand-new equipment to help us in our further adventures. The possibilities are limitless, assuming this much in Barb Bucks translates to roughly the equivalent of six and a half pounds of gold.

“Now that that is out of the way,” King Bodhi says, “it is time to let you go free. Hopefully you three shoobies won’t get into anymore trouble with my citizens, but if you do, do not hesitate to eviscerate them in combat. You have my permission.”

I nod. “We will do our best to keep the peace, unless the peace is broken before us.”

“Oh, also, I wish to make a formal request of you. This week celebrates the first anniversary of Santa Barbaran Independence. We are embarking on the Great Barbara Games, a summer appeasement festival meant to honor the Gods of the Surf and relive the glory that came with winning our freedom. The tryannical California is gone, and now we can live how we choose, without the obligations of the typical industrialized capitalist system that holds back most liberal forms of government. Instead, we are a free people. And the Great Barbara Games will showcase our freedom at its best.”

Once again, I am completely lost in what King Bodhi says. She says many words that I simply do not understand the true meaning of. We speak the same language, but sometimes that language is less similar than one might think.

“You wish us to attend these Great Barbara Games?” I ask, hoping that my assumption is correct.

“Yes, precisely that. You three shall be our guests of honor, and will see the most impressive extreme sports the world has ever seen. The X Games can suck it.”

“I understand. We will be there,” I say. “Thank you for your graciousness, King Bodhi. It was an honor to have met you.”

“Now, begone from my presence,” she says. “I wish to take my afternoon nap. Otherwise I get kinda grumpy.”

We decide to be gone from her presence before she grows irritated and changes her mind about her hospitality. King Bodhi, a teenage girl who is the leader of an entire nation that won its independence just one year earlier. I have no idea how any of that could have transpired, but I respect it nonetheless.

Now, it’s time to spend some money!