When I was a young man, borders had only just been invented. Nations were more nebulous things, defined purely by how far your could throw a sword. If it hit a peasant, that peasant probably belonged to you. The flow of commerce between nations, then, was marked not by taxes and guards, but by the supply of peasants you couldn’t hit. If no-one else hit them, they were a resource to be hit.
As time has moved on, borders have grown and expanded and pressed into each other like a fat man’s thighs, creaking and chafing. Tensions build up, wars occur, and all the time people throw pennies at each other like high-falutin ninjas playing the Go For Broke. Now a border is defined by how many foreigners you can blind with the smallest and deadliest piece of your national currency.
But so much of our media is international now. Television shows are bounced of satellites and straight into the tellybox of people who would rather be watching X Factor. Films are exported as values, sneaky consumerist spies to turn everyone into an American when they least expect it. And video games are, well, there’s the thing, isn’t it?
I do not like the whole digital download thing – if there is no physical copy, who am I to blame when something goes wrong? – but I will acknowledge that video games are interesting in their need to cling to a science fiction distribution method. I, however, prefer an actual optical disc of some description, something I can break into shards and wield like a punching dagger when trespassers need fending off. I can’t do that with sections of code. I’ve tried.
That is not to say, however, that coding can’t be vicious – the Atlantic Byte Vortex is a testament to that.
The ABV is so deadly that only one man has escaped from it alive; this is why you have never heard of it until now. In a century you would have difficulty spelling, I put together an expedition to properly chart the entirety of the Atlantic. The problem with oceans is that, by their very nature, they are full of water. Water, as we know, is not the most interesting substance to watch for prolonged periods. As a result, the sailors that claimed to chart the thing merely took note of the routes they sailed with ease and filled the rest in with a blue crayon. They, unfortunately, didn’t have my imagination.
My boat was stocked to the brim with the expendable sorts, people I could pick up in the grimiest parts of London for a stale sandwich and half a wooden doubloon. Tramps, traffic wardens, reality TV show stars, all were for sale and all were quickly locked in the galley for entertainment on the long journey. They were fed to mermaids and sharks, thrown from the rigging into nearby tornadoes, forced into duels to the pain with beards with rotten teeth attached. That kept the crew entertained on my long and arduous mission.
It wasn’t long enough before we found the Vortex. We had only culled our way through half of the Big Brother finalists when Unable Seaman Tepid Cloy called down to me. I gave the order to take us closer, the boat straining against the pull of the Vortex in the vain hope of advancing at its own pace.
The thing was vast and somewhat disturbing. A great purple hole in the centre of the ocean, a swirling maelstrom of visual basic smashing on the shifting, malformed rocks of C#. It was hypnotic in its movements, beautiful and deadly and ever so enchanting. I ripped a telescope from a nearby crewman, removed his bloodshot glass eye from the viewfinder, and took a closer look at our discovery.
There were small boats trapped in the whirling waters. To the naked eye they had looked like mere flotsam caught in the ebb and flow of the beautiful beast, but through the glass I could make them out to be cargo containers of a kind, though none I could directly place. They looked like ships in the same way a quill looks like a pen; you know that is their function, but only in an abstract sort of sense. They were too angular to be real ships, their hulls possessing far too many corners for the self-respecting sailor to put up with, and the wood was luminous. Its surface rolled over its flame like a viscous fog, occasionally leaving thin patches through which I could see the interior. They were carrying video games.
It was then that it struck me, the hilt of Cloy’s cutlass.
I fell forward, cracking my head on the side of the ship. My eyesight blurred as the hideous man-creature lent in close, his yellow teeth oozing inches from my well-maintained face.
‘Ya weren’t supposed to see this, boss,’ he spat. ‘This ‘ere is an American issue, got nowt to do with the British.’
I cracked my neck noisily, a talent I had developed thanks to a certain Thai butterfly I had encountered in a Kenyan tavern. ‘History tells us, Mister Cloy, that everything involves the British. It is their national trait, they simply must be seen to be involved in everything of importance. And this, I dare say, looks particularly important.’
The blade of the cutlass slid under my chin. ‘Well not this, boss. This little beaut is somefin Uncle Sam has been fostering for a while, ya ken?’
Oh I kenned. I kenned very well. The Vortex was natural enough, but the Americans had found it first, all those years ago, or at least the men who became Americans. They had little understanding of it at the time, computers having failed to be invented at that time, but as technology marched on they had spotted it: a black hole on the internet. It sucked things in and spat them out at random. There were routes around it, of course, but then that would miss the fun, wouldn’t it?
My eyes slid back into focus. ‘So this is what they’re doing with the games. This is why the United Kingdom has to wait three extra days for releases, even in the digital market place.’
‘Righto, boss. It’s the only way we can export our goods and remain all smug an that at the same time. It’s done us proud, this little thing. We can’t have you spoiling the secret.’
The blade pressed into my throat and I could feel the skin start to give way. It doesn’t take much pressure to pierce human skin, and unfortunately I am no exception. I am, however, smart enough to know this.
Inside my left sleeve I routinely conceal a small single-shot firearm of my own design. It is a difficult thing to fit into the casual everyday wear of a man of distinction such as myself, but I know the benefit of accessorising. As the layers of skin protecting my trachea began to separate, I flicked my wrist and shot Cloy in his nethers.
When the smoke cleared, the deck was coated in seamen. In his anguished state, Cloy had upset an oil lantern, which in turn set off the gunpowder reserves. Good fortune and my own natural determination had saved me from harm, but my crew were either dead or dying. I did the only humane thing and hurled them into the Vortex, to bathe forever in the luminescent light of java strings. Drowning in information is one of the better ways to die; there are, after all, a number of less than harrowing things one could get themselves lost in on the internet.
I had to abandon the ship. I rowed my way back to blighty on the emergency dinghy, and it was not a pleasant trip. There was only moderate foul language, and barely more than a brace of pirate queens to bed before I arrived at Southampton, and you will not find many pirate queens willing to set foot on a Southampton street.
So when your game is delayed, and the Americans on your Vapour account pal’s list are taunting you with their ability to play it, remember this: they know exactly what they are doing. They are taunting you because they believe you’ll never take a stand. They want you to believe it’s one of those quirks of the system, a relic from a bygone age. But it isn’t. It is a ploy.
America is laughing at you.
If only our sailors had been diligent enough to report back their discovery, instead of skulking off to the new world like the cowards they were, perhaps things would have been different. As it is, it’s going to have to be war I suppose.