Calling all readers and writers!
As you may know, new chapters of Olympus are posted on Wednesdays and Fridays here. But the world of Olympus is a lot bigger than just one story, and we want to invite you to join in the fun of exploring the new world of this game!
We’d like to announce Meanwhile Mondays. While Karl, Jacob, & Co. are busy pursuing their own ambitions, there are millions of other stories happening all across Olympus, and we’d like you to tell them! If you would like to see your own fiction, based in or around the world of Olympus published for all to see, feel free to submit your stories to email@example.com with the subject line “Meanwhile Monday Submission.”
For now, here’s our first Meanwhile Monday story! We put our heads together over here and came up with a short story that would act as a general introduction to the world of Olympus. We hope you enjoy it, and we look forward to seeing your submissions soon!
I would never have set foot in Olympus if it hadn’t been for Mr. Cloyster.
I’m not a gamer. I like bikes, skateboards, rollerblades … pretty much anything with wheels. A cybersuit doesn’t have wheels, and as far as I’m concerned, that’s its loss. Oh, sure, I knew people who played. My best friend, Carson Breadhouse, was a nut for Olympus. It was all I could do to drag Carson out of his cybersuit on a beautiful Sunday afternoon to go outside with me.
“My tavern is full of customers!” he moaned, as I disentangled his sausage fingers from the poles of the cybercube. “Just ten more minutes!”
“No.” I grunted. “Outside. Skateboards. Reality.”
“Two, Danny, just two more minutes! One! Let me get one more round for that big Argosian guy – he’s tipping like crazy!”
Like I said, Olympus wasn’t my thing. When I finally got my bleary-eyed buddy down to the skate park, he was pretty sore at me until I begrudgingly asked him how his game was going.
“Oh, man.” His eyes – slightly crossed from way too many hours in a helmet – brightened. “So good. So I’ve got my tavern in Sparta, right? Which isn’t really helping me get any experience but, man, it’s making me RICH. And as soon as I save enough drachmas to buy a mirrored shield, I can go for champion level before the Big Invasion. Then I can fight in the front lines! Yesterday, a guy comes in who just got back from questing for a silver fleece, he told me…”
I tuned him out. I was happy tomorrow was Monday. Carson was my best friend, but he could talk about Olympus until a guy thought Earth wasn’t real anymore. In school, we had little things like class and teachers and girls to distract him; there I could get a sentence or two of real human conversation out of him before he started talking about experience points and glory scores.
Ah, school. Despite smelly lockers, cruel classmates, and crazy teachers, it was definitely, always earth.
“For class today, we’re going on a field trip,” said Mr. Cloyster, with his typical damp deadpan tone and fishlike gaze, “We’re leaving earth.”
Sandra Mossman’s hand shot up. “Sir, we didn’t take our parents any permission forms to sign.”
“No permission forms necessary, Miss Mossman,” replied Mr. Cloyster, with the confident suavity of an eel. “Because while we will be leaving earth behind us, our bodies will remain here in this very classroom.”
Carson and I exchanged a gagging face. We both knew what was coming – another one of Mr. Cloyster’s famous Relaxation Meditations. Todd Elroy, whose brother had taken Mr. Cloyster’s Social Studies class the year before, had warned us about Mr. Cloyster and his habit of telling his class to “Close your eyes, and let me guide you on a walk through a forest.” These “walks through the forest” were Mr. Cloyster’s idea of a great way to start a class. It wasn’t spiritual stuff … just imagining things as a way to get us kids mellowed out so we wouldn’t cause trouble. The first time he’d done it, he had intoned, “You’re walking through the forest. Now, you come to a waterfall. And it’s very powerful, but very gentle, and incredibly high.”
I had my own ideas about what or whom in the room was incredibly high.
“Now you’re going under the waterfall. Now it’s touching the top of your head … relax the top of your head. Now it reaches your forehead. Let all the tension in your forehead and temples go as the cool, strong waterfall washes away all your bad thoughts. Now, it’s at your chin. Let go any tension that you have in your jaw.”
I was trying to figure this out. Water fell, like everything else, at rate of much-faster-than-what-he-was-
describing, so either waterfall was made of taffy or I was being wheeled through it at a very slow rate while lying on a gurney. I decided for the second image, and entertained myself the rest of the relaxation exercise by imagining how I was struggling to get free as the Gurney of Doom wheeled me under the Very Relaxing Waterfall of Mortal Peril.
Anyway, that’s what Carson and I assumed Mr. Cloyster had meant when he said we were “leaving earth.” But we were wrong. Instead, he wriggled over to the door, wrapped his clammy palm around the handle, and intoned, “Today, we will be exchanging earth—” He threw the door open dramatically, “—for Olympus!”
“No WAY!” shouted Carson.
In were wheeled twenty cybersuits, dangling from their BoomWires and gleaming in the fluorescent light of the classroom. There was a general hubbub, which Mr. Cloyster settled by making a little swimming motion with his hands in the air.
“But Mr. Cloyster! We didn’t fill out permission forms to play videogames at school!”
“Thank you, Miss Mossman. I appreciate your conscientious behavior, as always. No forms will be necessary, however, as this is strictly educational.” As the older kid setting up the cybersuits started plugging them into extension cords, Mr. Cloyster put his palms together, and paced in front of the class, his clasped hands swimming in front of him. “Last weekend, I visited my nephew in Altoona. A very bright young man, my nephew. I always try to ask him what the latest thing is with kids of his age.”
We knew all about Mr. Cloyster’s nephew in Altoona. Every time Mr. Cloyster visited his nephew in Altoona, he came back with another crazy assignment for us. In fact, I had GoogleMapped directions from my house to Altoona, to see if there was any way I could get there and give Mr. Cloyster’s nephew an atomic wedgie. But from the expressions on the faces of most of the kids in class, Mr. Cloyster’s Altoona-based terror of a nephew had actually scored a goal. If the light in Carson’s slightly-crossed eyes were any indication, this year he would be sending a Christmas card with a nice big thank you, addressed, “Mr. Cloyster’s Nephew, Altoona, PA.”
“My nephew, whom I think I’ve mentioned to you before, took me into his Entertainment Area and showed me his cybersuit. When, after some encouragement, I put it on and stepped into the game called Olympus…” He paused, peering at us with crablike uncertainty. “You all have, I take it, heard of this game called Olympus?” When we chorused our assent, he continued, stepping over cables laid out by the older kid, “…when I stepped into the game called Olympus, I was astonished. Flabbergasted.”
“It’s awesome, right?” breathed Carson.
“It,” replied Mr. Cloyster, with a fishy stare that made Carson deflate a few inches, “is a fascinating social study experiment. Which is why it suits the educational purposes of this class, Miss Mossman, to spend this period investigating the social ramifications of an artificial world and its artificial citizens.”
I took a quick survey of the class. The two jocks and the popular girls were eyeing each other uncertainly, trying to figure out if this was lame or cool. The gamers, including my best friend, looked like they could cry with joy. Many of the kids looked vaguely approving. I guess I was the only one with a real grudge against the game.
But, still. I mean, come on. Any video game is better than school, every time. Even lame, best-friend-stealing ones like Olympus.
We huddled together on the windy plain of Crete. Mr. Cloyster – it was still easy to tell Mr. Cloyster apart, even though we were all now the general height and build – had to raise his voice to be heard by everyone. “Now that we’re here, I’d like to explain a little more about your assignment.”
“Like why we had to start over,” muttered Carson behind me, sourly. I glanced over at him. Olympus is pretty amazing – his face really did look like a 3D cartoon of Carson, right down to the very slightly crossed eyes. But it still made him look heroic and noble. Not too heroic, though. Mr. Cloyster had, for fairness sake, demanded that those who already had Olympus accounts must make a second character to play for the purpose of the assignment.
“The purpose of this assignment,” Mr. Cloyster was saying, “is to examine the interactions of human players—”
“Heroes,” interrupted Todd Hampton. Apparently, Carson wasn’t the only serious player in class.
“Players are called heroes in Olympus.”
“Very well. We will examine the interactions of heroes and computer characters—”
Carson, emboldened by Todd Hampton, repeated the word. “Nops. Non-Player Characters are called nops here. If you say computer characters, uh…” he faltered under Mr. Cloyster’s cold eye, “Uh, nobody will… you know… know what you … mean?”
“Heroes and nops. Thank you, Mr. Breadhouse,” enunciated Mr. Cloyster with sharp-toothed emphasis, “have a fascinatingly complex relationship within the world of this game called Olympus. ‘Nops’ are both the wheels of gameplay as well as the thorn in the side of play… of heroes,” he caught himself. “We will spend this class session in a typical town of Olympus, interacting with these ‘nops,’ and tomorrow I would like a two-paragraph report on your observances of nop-hero relations.”
“Just in Crete, Mr. Cloyster?” asked Todd Hampton. Wow, he really came out of his shell in this game. In class, he was small, sandy, shrinking. Imagine a mouse covered in sawdust, that sneezes and blinks a lot, and is looking for a hole to get cleaned off in. That was Todd Hampton in Social Studies. Not in Olympus, though. In Olympus, he was just as tall, strong, and hero-type-looking as everyone else, and judging by the fact that he had already spoken up twice (a record for the year, much less one class), he knew it.
“Well, you know sir, how nops are different in each city-state? Cretans aren’t like Spartans, and Spartans aren’t like Argonians. Do you want us to just stay in Crete, or can we visit any of the city-states we want?” He still blinked a lot, even in the game. But it worked for him here, hero-wise. It looked intelligent, not weak.
The question seemed to stop Mr. Cloyster in his tracks. “Do you mean,” he said, his voice bubbling a little with interest, “that there are more than one type of Nops?”
“Oh, yes, sir,” said Todd Hampton. “There are six. One for each city-state.”
“Nerd,” said someone from the knot of popular kids.
Todd Hampton stopped talking, but his work was already done. A look of wonder was splashed over Mr. Cloyster’s face. “I only surveyed Crete while visiting my nephew in Altoona.” He seemed to feel the need to justify this. “My sister had made pot roast. But since there are six entirely different forms of nops…” his eyes showed a decision, and he stood up straighter, signaling again the class’s attention.
“New plan, class. Instead of sticking together in today’s Social Studies class, we will be breaking into six three-person teams, each headed by a player with some experience in Olympus. That should give us ample means to investigate each different form of nop.” He broke off, and looked to Todd Hampton. “Shouldn’t it?”
Todd Hampton had retreated back into his emotional hole – Olympus or no Olympus – so Carson volunteered, “Yes, sir!”
“Your team will collaborate on a report of the nop group you have been assigned, giving an example of a typical hero-nop interaction, and present it in class next week. This will comprise,” he did a quick calculation in his head, “five percent of your course grade.”
“But Mr. Cloyster! The syllabus says—”
“I’m well aware of the syllabus, Miss Mossman. This will be counted towards the grade of your final exam. Now, let’s divide teams.”
I was on Carson’s team, of course, with a girl I’d never talked to named Lisa something, and we were assigned to Sparta. The other team leaders were Todd Hampton (Crete), Jason van Der Heel (Cyprus), Joe Lao (Troy), Sarah Smith (Argos), and, to everyone’s surprise, a jock named Matt Spedly. It had been looking like Sandra Mossman was going to be a team leader, headed for Athens, but her team absolutely revolted, and after some prodding, Matt guiltily admitted that, yes, he had played Olympus some before. When teasing voices made further inquiries with the gentleness of red-hot pokers, he confessed that he not only owned a cybersuit, but ran a gladiators’ club in Olympus.
My guess is, come spring, Matt Spedly will not be picked as homecoming king.
“This class is a double-period,” said Mr. Cloyster when we were all split up, “so you have more than an hour to make your investigations. I myself am using the Educator’s Edition of Olympus, which gives me special tools to relocate you and myself within the world of Olympus. I will transport each of your teams to the center of your assigned ‘city-state,’ and will be checking in with each of you over the course of the following hour.”
He puckered his lips in concentration as he did some sort of swiping motion to bring up a display we couldn’t see. “First team: Mr. Hampton and company, to Crete. Please be observant. Remember, your team report WILL be counted for five percent of your final grade.” He splashed the air with his hand, and, with a bright flash, Todd Hampton and his team were gone.”
“Second team, Mr. Spedly and company, to Athens.” Flash.
“Third, Mr. van Der Heel and company, to Cyprus.” Flash.
“Fourth team, Mr. Breadhouse and company, to Sparta.” Big flash. Everything around us disappeared, swirled, and then re-formed into solid shapes.
And we were already in trouble.
Three days later, we were back in social studies class, and Carson still wasn’t speaking to me.
“I’m sorry,” I whispered for the eight-hundredth time as we took our seats and stowed our backpacks.
“I’m sorry!” I hissed more urgently as Mr. Cloyster bobbed to the front of the classroom.
Icy glare of death.
“Good morning, class. I’ve been very much looking forward to hearing your presentations today. Which group would like to go first.”
Sandra Mossman’s hand shot up. But Mr. Cloyster called instead on Todd Hampton, who was once again reduced to his sawdusty-mouse state. Todd and his group assembled at the front of the class. Todd didn’t talk – he left that up to a guy in his group whose name was Brad or Chad, I could never remember which.
“Well,” began Brad or Chad, “people in Crete are crazy. They lie like all the time. Like all the time,” he repeated nervously. He looked around the classroom, saw that people were generally listening, took a breath, and continued. “If a Cretan tells you something, you should believe the exact opposite of that, because that’s what they mean – literally, the exact opposite. Like if they say yes, they mean no. So if you want to like buy something at a store or somewhere, you have to be like, ‘Is this for sale?’ and the guy will be like, ‘no,’ but he’ll mean yes. So he says no and you’re like, ‘okay, for how much,’ but that’s no good, because he just makes up a number.
“But the good thing,” continued Brad or Chad, “is that in most of the stores everything has a tag that says ‘Not for sale for twenty drachmas,’ or whatever. So that means it is for sale for twenty drachmas. So it’s pretty confusing, but once you get the hang of it, it’s okay, like talking in code.”
He looked back a Todd, who nodded encouragement. “Uh, where this gets confusing is when you’re trying to figure out if someone is a nop or not. So like you have to ask, ‘hang on, are you a hero or a nop?’ But then, if it’s a nop, they lie all the time, so they’re just like, ‘I’m a hero.’ Which means that most of the time, to let you know they’re heroes, other players will say, ‘I’m a nop.’ And it mostly goes on like that, with everyone just talking backwards because instead of figuring out if someone is lying or not, it’s easier for everyone to just lie.”
Brad or Chad looked a little surprised at how long he had just talked uninterrupted. “So, uh, to conclude … people in Crete are crazy, whether they’re nops or not.”
Mr. Cloyster slapped his hands together in sincere applause, which the rest of us joined in, more or less. “Next group: Sarah Smith. Argos.”
Sarah Smith was crisp, crisp, crisp. It looked like her mom had been starching and ironing every piece of clothing Sarah put on that day, and got caught up in the swing of things and decided to iron Sarah, too. She stood ramrod straight, with a sheet of paper that didn’t dare curl over held perfectly straight between tightly pinched fingers.
“Argos. A city-state comprised of farm land. Population, approximately 3,000 nops at best estimate. Argosians nops extremely suspicious. Never take anything at face value. When hearing a hero’s name, an Argosian nop typically snorts, laughs, or calls him or her a liar. Argosians quite difficult to interact with, given extreme suspicion. If a hero tries to convince them of anything, Argosian will get him or her so confused they forget what they were saying.”
Sarah Smith looked like the kind of person who never forgot what she was saying, or what anyone else ever said, so that seemed like a pretty big accomplishment to me. She also emphasized that “or her” with a ferocity that made her exactness downright scary.
“Only reasonable way to interact with Argosian nops: treating them with equal suspicion. A simple commercial transaction is like a hostage exchange of goods and money. A hero must never try to prove him or herself as above suspicion. This is impossible. Only way to be accepted is to join some sort of recognized organization. This leads to highest incidence of guilds, clubs, fraternities, sororities, family groups, clans, leagues, cabals, and societies in Argos, merely for the purpose of allowing heroes to move through the game without being stopped by suspicious nops at every turn.”
She stopped before I even knew she was done, marched back to her chair, turn with what I swear was a heel-click, and sat down. The rest of her group shambled back to their chairs as we all clapped.
Then it was “Mr. Spedly’s group. Athens.”
It may have been Matt Spedly’s group, but guess who gave the report.
“Our group unanimously decided to split up, with me going to the library by myself and the rest of the team going anywhere else. Athens is a big forest, and the city we were in is all buildings in, around, and under trees. When I got to the library, which was up a giant tree like a tree-house, I asked the guy there if they had any records of building permits, laws, bylaws, or forms – especially permission forms. He just looked at me and asked, ‘Why?’ I told him it was for a school project that I had to finish in an hour, and he said, ‘Why?’ I told him that was all the time I had been given permission to take, and he said, ‘Why?’ and it just went on and on like that.”
Sandra Mossman backed up and leaned against the blackboard as she continued. “They were always asking why. Or if not why, then ‘Who?’ ‘How?’ or ‘When?’ It’s like they only know how to talk in questions. After a while I got sick of the library guy and went to find the rest of my team. I never found them.” Here she paused to give Matt Spedly a dirty look.
“What I did find was that the only way to get along with Athenians is either to ignore their questions or ask them questions back. It doesn’t do any good to try and answer them. It’s like if you were to fill out a form and give it to them, they’d just look at it and ask, ‘Why?’ It was just ‘Why, why, why, why, WHY?’ It drove me so crazy I finally took off my helmet a half hour early without permission and just waited for the rest of you guys to finish up.”
Sandra Mossman lurched off the blackboard and sat down, her back covered in chalk.
“Fascinating,” came the drip-drip voice of Mr. Cloyster. “There seems to be a common thread here … the only way to deal with irrational characters is to become irrational yourself!” He scribbled a note, crossed something out, and called, “Mr. Lao. Troy.”
Joe Lao wasn’t exactly the class clown, but he was a pretty funny guy, and he had us all laughing as he told us about Troy, which was all little islands and seaports, and sounded like pretty much the opposite of Athens. In Troy, if you asked a question, they just acted like they hadn’t heard you, and they never asked questions themselves. “So then I said, ‘You will tell me how much this sword is!’ and the guy said, ‘Arr, lad, it’s a great deal! You want to buy it!’ But I’m like, ‘You still didn’t tell me how much it costs!’ and he’s like, ‘Buy it! Now!’” His piratical, crazed impersonation of the Trojan nop shopkeeper was so funny that we all really clapped for him, still laughing, when he sat down.
“Very good, Mr. Lao. I’ll be sure and tell Miss Saunders about your theatrical aspirations for the next school show. Next up, Mr. van Der Heel’s team, who visited Cyprus.”
Jason van Der Heel was a tall, shy guy, so he just looked at the floor when he stood up in front of the class, picked out a particular stain on the carpet with his eyes, and said, “In Cyprus, all the nops are in love with you.”
“No way,” breathed someone.
“It sounds like a good thing,” he told the stain, “but it’s not really. It gets really tricky and, uh,” bright red color was rising in his ears like an old cartoon thermometer, “really embarrassing.”
We waited for him to go on. When he seemed fully absorbed in studying the stain, somebody in the back prompted him with a loud, “What happened?”
“Well, Cyprus is like a tropical paradise … like Hawaii or something. So we went to this luau kind of thing. In the course of a single meal, our waitress fell in love with each of us in turn, got angry and jealous when we weren’t paying enough attention to us, dumped our drinks on our laps and told us to get out.”
The classroom erupted in laughter and catcalls. Jason kept staring at the stain. One of his teammates helpfully leaned forward and added, “Then she followed Jason out into the street, grabbing his ankles and begging him to take her back.”
Jason and the stain had a staring contest while the red of his ears spread to the back of his neck and his temples.
“And then,” added the third guy on the team, “some random stranger nop on the street showed up and challenged Jason to a duel over the girl … and they had never met before!”
We were dying. Jason looked like you could have eaten him with a mallet and bib. Mr. Cloyster dismissed Jason’s team with a wave of his hands.
“Mr. Breadhouse. Sparta,” he announced.
I stood up and walked to the front of the class. Carson and Lisa Something were standing behind me. Carson hadn’t smiled once during any of the reports. He had been too busy burning two holes into the side of my face with the blackest look I’d ever seen in his slightly-crossed eyes.
I tried to ignore him. It’s not easy, when your 200 lb. best friend is trying to kill you with hate in front of a whole class. Lisa Something cleaned her nails. I took a deep breath and started talking.
“Well,” I began, “uh, nops in Sparta are about as crazy as anywhere in Olympus, I guess. It’s a big desert, not Hawaii … and it’s opposite of Cyprus too, because instead of loving you, everyone pretty much hates you.” Just like now, since Carson was hating me so hard it felt like everyone in the world did.
“It’s not personal,” I went on, “any more than in the other city-states. When our team got to Sparta, we were in the middle of this big marketplace, and everyone was arguing. It was like the family reunion from heck – everyone was in each other’s face, shouting and threatening. Apparently, that’s the way things are in Sparta. We crossed the road, and someone yelled, ‘What, our side of the street isn’t good enough for you?’ We turned right at a corner, and as we were going, some lady shouted, ‘Yeah, that’s right, run away!’ It was pretty confusing, so we … uh … decided to … uh … go to a tavern.”
I swear I felt Carson’s crossed eyes narrow me, like a magnifying glass on an ant. I felt about that big.
“Carson told us, ‘Whatever you do, don’t be polite.’ We didn’t have to wait long to find out what he meant. As soon as we walked in the door, the waiter marched up to me, grabbed me by the collar, and yelled ‘What do you want?’ in my face. I know he was the waiter because he was wearing an apron, but this guy was about eight feet of pure muscle, and could have crushed me like a bug.”
Carson snorted. Apparently the waiter had not impressed him. Lisa Something finished the nails on her left hand and started working on the nails of her right hand.
“So I said, ‘I’d like a table, please.’ And, uh, the ‘please’ got us in some big trouble.”
This was too much for Carson. He exploded, right there in front of the whole class. “I TOLD you not to say please!! Didn’t I? Didn’t I say, like FIVE HUNDRED times that PLEASE is the worst insult in the WORLD to a Spartan? DIDN’T I??”
The class was like a giant room of eyeballs, pivoting back and forth from Carson’s face to mine. I don’t know what I looked like, but Carson looked like a cross-eyed bull seeing a glow-in-the-dark red cape attached to a red fire-engine against a really red sunset.
“What happened, exactly?” Mr. Cloyster’s voice hissed.
“There was a fight,” said Lisa Something, eyes still on her nails. “It turned into a riot. They burned the tavern to the ground.”
“MY TAVERN!” howled Carson.
The class, not knowing what else to do, burst into applause.
We got an A. Mr. Cloyster said that our group most clearly demonstrated the fascinating social ramifications of irrational computer-controlled characters on real-world societies. What I guess he meant is that a stupid cartoon character made my best friend want to strangle me. It took about a month, but Carson came around. The A really helped, I think. Carson hasn’t seen a lot of A’s in his life. Plus, every day after school for a month I went to the arcade and spent a couple hours slaving away at helping him fix up his tavern. I finally got so sick of hauling virtual logs and scrubbing virtual soot that I dug into my summer savings, cashed it in as Olympus drachmas, and bought him that mirrored shield he had been trying to earn enough to buy. He got to be Champion Level for the Big Invasion, which made him start to think about forgiving me.
As for me, I’m working extra at the Leenie Weenie hot dog stand this summer to build my savings back up so I can get a car in two years. It was supposed to be next year, but I did buy that dumb shield. I never plan to go into Olympus ever again; it’s just not worth the risk.
Except I might go in one more time, just to see the forest city-state of Athens. Any place that can drive Sandra Mossman crazy is a place that deserves a respectful visit.