upon a time, far, far from now, there lived a girl named Elspeth Dandi,
and a boy named Bobby Shaftoe. They were both 13, and were having
trouble fitting in. Elspeth and Bobby lived in the industrial town
of Greenville, which had been lovely and now was polluted. Things
weren't going right in Greenville and two of the people who suffered
most were Elspeth and B. Shaftoe, as he preferred to be known.
If you were a bird and
could fly over Greenville, you would see a town that once was small
but had suddenly sprawled for miles around. There were still patches
of green, a few parks and gardens, but mostly you would notice black
strips of road gridding huge squares of gray concrete. Tall buildings
cast dark shadows over smaller ones. Thick traffic buzzed and zoomed
across three different levels. Factories belched gases into the sky
and if you were a bird, you would be a crow or pigeon.
The other kids at school
teased and bullied our two young friends. Elspeth was "purple
people". Her skin was half lavender and even though she had lived
in Greenville her entire life, she and her little sister Polly were
treated like strangers. Most everyone gave them the cold shoulder
and even colder looks. B. Shaftoe was the new kid in town. He'd moved
to Greenville from the big city three hours away by hovertube. The
other kids called him "gay" because he wore his hair in
a ponytail. That was the only reason and you would think that B. Shaftoe
would cut his hair. But every man in his family had worn their hair
long and in a tail, all the way back to his great-great-great-granddad,
and he wasn't about to change that tradition. Not just because a bunch
of creeps called him names, not yet anyway.
The day the girls in the
IN-crowd sneered "Purrr-ple!" loud enough for Elspeth to
hear, and loud enough for B. Shaftoe to notice, was the same day some
boys from the IN-crowd tried to pin Bobby down and cut off his tail.
This all happened after school on a dank Friday. Elspeth yelled "stop!"
and Polly opened her mouth as wide as a Mall tunnel and screamed "Fire!"
at the top of her lungs. This brought schoolteachers and security
guards out to the playground. They drew their stunguns and yelled
"Break it up punks!" The bigger boys pushed B. Shaftoe and
sauntered off. "We don't want any trouble," said one teacher.
"Go home, school's over for today." said another. So B.
Shaftoe, Elspeth and Polly walked together through the metal-biohazard
detector and almost all the way to Bobby's house before he said "Thanks."
and "Wanna see my holosurfer?"
"You have a holosurfer?"
gasped Polly "Oh please Elspeth, please, please, please!"
Polly jumped up and down and tugged her sister's bustle. She held
a Babs doll tightly in her fist and whacked her sister with it as
she jumped and begged. Elspeth felt shy. She'd never been to a blue&white's
house before, and if the other kids knew she was hanging out with
the ponytail guy things could get worse. But the day was so gray and
smelt bad and she'd wanted to try holosurfing for as long as she could
remember. "O.K.," decided Elspeth, and in they went.
B. Shaftoe's mom and dad
were nice. They looked up from their workcube and smiled and said
"Pleased to meet you Elizabeth" and "There are some
pizza cookies in the fridge."
"Her name is ELSPETH," said Polly with a shake of her pigtails.
Elspeth nudged her little sister with an elbow and Polly said "We
love pizza cookies, THANK YOU!" She waved her Babs doll at the
parents and grinned "This is Sally." But they had tuned
back in to the workcube. "Come on, " said B. Shaftoe, "They're
The kids went to B. Shaftoe's
room, which was a mess of interesting things, all cleared away from
a central spot on the floor where the holo board stood. It was an
older model "long board," very cool, with a smooth wood
surface and a yin-yang sticker centered on its front.
"That's a YinYang" said B. Shaftoe, "built in '18.
There aren't too many of these left."
"Cool" said Elspeth.
"Cool" said Polly who had one pizza cookie in her mouth
already as she bit down on a second. "Don't make a mess!"
hissed Elspeth in an embarrassed whisper.
"It's O.K.," said B. Shaftoe. "She's cute." Polly
flashed him her biggest grin and said "Sally likes you and your
"Polly!" cried Elspeth.
"I hate those creeps," said B. Shaftoe. "I'm not cutting
"And we're not bleaching our skin" said Elspeth.
B. Shaftoe grinned and said "Surf's up!" He thumbed a switch
on the wall and the room went dark. The YinYang glowed. The three
children sat close around it as images began to resolve and dance
about them. B. Shaftoe mouthed a few commands, and they were off,
riding a crest of beautiful sights and sounds.
After that, B. Shaftoe,
Elspeth and Polly were friends and things got a little bit easier
for them in Greenville. The teasing didn't stop, but they cared about
it less. And then the day came when something very unusual happened
with the YinYang.
They were holosurfing
and having a great time, whooping their way through jungle movies
and learning all about plants and monkeys and old Tarzan films when
things started to shake and fall apart. At first B. Shaftoe thought
they were in a wiggling blackout but things didn't just fizz off and
then on again. This was weirder than anything he'd seen before.
" yelled Polly. Elspeth held her little sister tight. "Bobby,
I feel funny," she cried, her voice sounding thin and fuzzy.
Everything went black and then wireframe and then there was a great
whooshing shock as the three children went digital. They were spun
and pulled through a portal or tunnel or wave tube into and then out
of the ether.net where they landed in a sprawl on a patch of pale
green meadow grass.
Elspeth looked up and
saw a bluer sky than she had ever seen before, studded with fluffy
white clouds, and strangely, in the far distance, a kind of dark haze.
Polly looked down and saw hundreds of tiny flowers like colored stars
and crawling amongst them, a fascinating variety of jeweled insects
and tiny furry creatures. B. Shaftoe looked out and saw a shining
sea with white wave caps and jumping fish. The three children all
took huge gulps of air that was fresh and lively and so much better
than the smoggy stuff they breathed in Greenville.
"Where are we?" wondered Elspeth aloud. "How did we
"And how will we get back?" asked B. Shaftoe.
"I don't ever want to go back," cried Polly. "It's
beautiful here!" Come on Sally!" and she jumped up and started
running through the soft green grass, yelling and singing and swinging
Sally all around. Elspeth and B. Shaftoe laughed and grew giddy form
the clear air and the amazing sights and sounds of growing things
everywhere they looked.
And then Mousechik appeared.
He was as small as a mouse and furry, but straight up from the top
of his head grew a cluster of bright yellow feathers. A slingshot
hung from a belt around his middle. "Hurry, this way!" he
yelled "Before her dirt twister hits!" He motioned wildly
to the children. Elspeth grabbed Polly and ran after B. Shaftoe and
Mousechik. A fierce, bitter-tasting wind was upon them. Chemical-smelling
dirt particles made everything dark and thick and hard to move through.
The children choked and stumbled and finally found shelter by following
And so, even though at
first glance Gaea seemed beautiful and bucolic, the children soon
learned that it was a place with as many troubles as Greenville, but
troubles that were more dire and dangerous…and a place that really
needed their help. After this first taste of the Dirt Queen's destructive
powers, another webquake shook the children back to Greenville, this
time with Mousechik in tow. On future adventures to Gaea, always at
the most unexpected times, the children brought back other allies-creatures
of Gaea whose special skills helped our friends deal with difficult
times in Greenville and danger on Gaea. Mousechik and Marsuptile became
loyal companions to B. Shaftoe; Shehorsea and Porkypine pledged themselves
to Elspeth; and Batbug followed Polly everywhere, always worried (and
with good reason) that she might fall into danger.
With each new unexpected
webquake, the three children were thrown deeper into the Domains and
intrigues of the six evil Kings and Queens of Gaea. O Queen ruled
the skies and where she left her mark, the air was no longer breathable.
Dirt Queen ruled the land, and she delighted in tearing up plants,
deadening the soil and leaving a wasteland behind. King H2O ruled
the waters, which he laced with poisons and warmed until they were
unbearable for the beautiful creatures that lived deep below the surface.
At first the children
thrived on their new adventures in the magical lands of Gaea. Now
they had a place of their own where they could become heroes. Mousechik
and Shehorsea told thrilling tales of the woes of Gaea and begged
B. Shaftoe and Elspeth to do all they could to conquer the evil Kings
and Queens. The myths of Gaea stated that only human children from
the other side of the ether.net possessed the skills required to vanquish
evil. Mousechik had arranged for a dragon ride over all of Gaea and
the children were thrilled. The damage to earth, air and water still
seemed minimal when gazing at the beautiful world from above. Their
dragon was kind and flew smoothly. His scales were warm and velvety,
and lovely to sit upon. He told them many tales of Gaea as they flew
over fields and mountains, lakes and oceans, rivers and tiny towns
populated with mice that laid eggs and lizards that nursed their young.
But then on one ill-fated
visit, Polly became the plaything of Queen Gimme.
Queen Gimme, the Sprawl
King and most horrific of all, the Slaughter King, lived in the far
reaches of Gaea. It was they who truly ruled over the ghastly changes
that were destroying Gaea and there seemed no end to their evil.
"She's such a pretty
moppet" purred Queen Gimme, "and she amuses me so!"
The children had been invited to a sumptuous picnic hosted by the
charming Queen. They went, even though Batbug, Marsuptile and Mousechik
begged them not to. There was something in the air that made the children
throw caution to the winds…. Before Elspeth and B. Shaftoe could
stop her, Queen Gimme whisked Polly away to her glittering palace.
With the help of many Gaean creatures, B. Shaftoe and Elspeth entered
the palace through a labyrinth of underground tunnels. But when they
finally reached Queen Gimme, Polly was gone. She was discarded by
the bored and petulant Queen to a floating orphanage that everyone
called "The Ship of Lost Children." You see, others had
crossed the ether.net before, and tried, as all human children will
try, to make the world a better place.
Elspeth was desperate
to rescue her little sister when a sudden webquake sent the children
back to Greenville. To all appearances Polly, miraculously, was still
with them, safe and sound. But to Elspeth's dawning despair, her sister's
once bright eyes were now two flat black disks. Polly spoke in a monotone
and moved in a robotic trance. Her spirit was back on Gaea, trapped
aboard a ship that was turned away at every port, and lost to all
on the bleak Gaean seas.
Mousechik's sources gave
our friends some hope. The legends of Gaea described such dark times
and how each Gaean Domain was returned to balance by a human child
who "played the right games well". The myths told of a 7th
Domain of Gaea, one that is ruled by an oracle in the shape of a giant
egg. The oracle is named Nix, and Nix will show the way to your heart's
"My heart's desire is to have Polly back safe and sound,"
"Then you must go to Nix and ask it the way," advised Shehorsea.
"But we must hurry, hurry, hurry!" squeaked Porkypine. "Gaea
is failing. The Kings and Queens are sucking up her power."
Hidden challenges lie
in each Domain, some best played by Elspeth; others where only B.
Shaftoe can succeed. But like many things on Gaea, the most obvious
way to play the games is not always the way that will win. And just
when our friends think they may be making progress, a webquake can
strike again. "Maybe there's a way to recreate webquakes"
muses B. Shaftoe as he gazes about his room. "Maybe there's a
way things are arranged that makes a webquake happen. Maybe we just
think they're random."
Back in Greenville, Elspeth
and B. Shaftoe are dispirited. Frustrated by the seeming random access
to Gaea, they can't proceed with rescuing Polly at a pace they would
like. The taunts of the IN-crowd grow intolerable. Elspeth's parents
don't understand when she tries to tell them that something is wrong
with Polly. "She's been so good and quiet lately," says
Elspeth's mother. "She does everything I say."
B. Shaftoe's parents are
kind and ask him "How was school today?" but they turn back
to their workcube before he can answer.
Sally sits broken and
neglected on a toy shelf. Funny how everyone overlooks her. The magic
atmosphere of Gaea had filled Sally with life. She's no longer a mere
doll. If only Elspeth would notice, Sally could help. Even the Gaean
creatures are lying low. Greenville has become a dangerous place for
tiny animals. They're likely to be squashed or sprayed.
There hasn't been a webquake
in a long time. Elspeth begins to believe that Gaea is a fantasy.
She decides to join the IN-crowd and get on with her life. It's time
to grow up and bleach her skin. She'll be light enough to pass and
things will get easier. B. Shaftoe feels sad and deserted as he watches
Elspeth act like the other girls. She gives him cold looks and won't
speak to him. Bobby retreats to his room and channels his anger into
the popular shooter hologame "Gloom." As our two heroes
try to deal with being a teenager in Greenville, the proof that Gaea
is failing grows ominous. Deeply linked to the events on the other
side of the ether.net, Greenville suffers in tandem. The factories
spit noxious gasses; nobody gets along; it grows unbearably hot….
The true nature of Gaea's
growing tragedy is this: The Kings and Queens are not evil, they are
simply out of balance. Queen Gimme and the Slaughter King are the
worst for together they have managed to escalate the downward spiral
that Gaea is victim to. And it all started because of Queen Gimme's
vanity and greed; and the Slaughter King's delight in death and destruction.
The air and water and
soil of Gaea had always been particularly delightful, clean and fertile
because of the presence of zillions of miniscule, fairy-like sparkles
called "scrubbers." Scrubbers kept the air fresh and water
clean and maintained all things in good balance, including the behavior
of the Gaean Kings and Queens. There had always been an infinite supply
of scrubbers because of the Spawn Scrubber, an especially magical
variant of the sparkles that had a bright greenish tinge and the ability
to spawn swarms of scrubbers as needed. The Spawn Scrubber and its
children sprang from and warmed the great egg Nix.
Queen Gimme had a huge
desire to be beautiful. The lovelier she was, the more successful
she was at convincing the Slaughter King to do her bidding. And what
she wanted was more, more, MORE of everything. One of her beauty secrets
was to glue a curved line of scrubbers along each eyelid. They added
sparkle to her eyes and kept her skin youthful and fresh. Queen Gimme
had read in the ancient books of Gaea, that "Scrubbers focused
upon the eye lead to visions of great beauty and understanding."
Queen Gimme needed fresh
scrubbers every day for her beauty routine. Using all her wiles, she
convinced the Slaughter King to develop a machine that would suck
scrubbers from the atmosphere. The Slaughter King's machine was horrible
and worked terribly well. He rode it each day, round and around the
planet, reveling in its power. It gave off a high pitched scream as
it sucked, that made the great sea creatures of Gaea wash belly-up
onto the shore. The Slaughter King smirked at the sight ("Duh!
The ocean's that way!" he'd yell) and presented Queen Gimme with
a pinch of sparkling scrubbers at sundown each day.
Polly, dressed to look
like a miniature version of Queen Gimme, and Sally, dressed the same,
witnessed this daily routine and sensed that it was very wrong. "I
want to go home, I want Elspeth!" cried Polly and not caring
what might happen, she struck Queen Gimme with her Babs doll. Sally,
who now could think and move on Gaea, managed to scrape off the scrubbers
from Queen Gimme's eye. The Queen howled in pain "Take her away!"
Polly was bundled off to the Ship of Lost Children. Sally fell to
the ground in a heap, clutching the scrubbers, including a green one
that glowed more brightly than the others.
When Elspeth and B. Shaftoe
arrived on the scene (via an underground labyrinth that Mousechik
had shown them), only Sally remained. Elspeth scooped up her sister's
doll, and though the children made it back to Greenville, what was
left of Polly was just a ghostly shell.
When Elspeth and B.Shaftoe had finally played their way through challenges
in Greenville, they discovered a reliable means of recreating webquakes.
Now they could travel to Gaea at will, and continue their search for
Polly. As they returned each of Gaea's evil and kings and queens to
balance, the way to the 7th level of Gaea, the Domain of the oracle
egg Nix, became clear. Nix gave our friends the appropriate clue,
cloaked in a riddle. They solved this and understood that they must
return to Greenville and search through Sally's things to find the
Spawn Scrubber. By playing dress-up with Sally, they eventually found
the pinch of living jewels, which once sorted, revealed one of particularly
bright cast. When it was placed on Sally's forehead like a mystical
third eye, a kaleidoscope of magical effects transported the children
to the oracle Nix where they witnessed the awesome sight of the Spawn
Scrubber creating a flurry of sparkling children. The fairy-like sparkles
surrounded Gaea and made that troubled world beautiful and whole again.
The Ship of Lost Children sailed into port and Polly ran into the
arms of Elspeth and B. Shaftoe.
Nix's last words to the
children point them towards a glowing portal. If they enter, they
will find a new world full of adventure as true Guardians of Gaea.
There they will meet other Guardians, who, like them, are committed
to playing games that will improve the world. Teams are formed and
adventures are shared in this new place online, somewhere between
Greenville and Gaea, in the midst of the ether.net….