A typical encounter at a yet-to-be built massively multiplayer online school:
Suddenly, Amy realized that unless they all worked together, they wouldn’t get out alive. She wiggles the fuzzy slippers dangling from her swinging feet and glances out the window as if looking for an answer.
She had miscalculated, and now they didn’t have enough fuel left to make it to the landing strip. After several abbreviated (cryptic) messages back and forth, all five members of the crew agreed that this would be as good a time as any to test whether or not the wing modifications they introduced yesterday would have the desired effect. Penny was in charge of gathering weather data – they needed to plot a new flight path that would take advantage of the winds and updrafts in light of their wing mods to save fuel. Kevin’s job was to locate alternate landing sites – they had to coordinate closely to make sure they found a place that would not only allow them to touch down without too much damage to the landing gear, but also take advantage of the winds currents. Each time they found another possible site, Mick and Krista would run several simulated landings to see what their chances for success were. Amy asks her mom if lunch will be ready soon – all this excitement is making her hungry.
They ended up testing five different sites, and settled on the third, with the fifth one as their second choice. They informed Amy (who is the captain and pilot today), plotted a course, and headed off. Amy’s mom tells her that lunch is ready. Amy transfers the flight controls to Krista, the co-pilot, who starts getting ready for the final approach. The wing mods worked well, allowing them to glide much of the way without using more fuel. The place they had chosen was a level, grassy field that looked perfect on their maps, and they arrived with just a smidgen of fuel remaining, but when they touched down, their wheels immediately dug into mud, causing the plane to flip end over end, breaking into tiny pieces and scattering the crew across several hundred meters of ground. Amy finishes her sandwich and munches on a cookie as her mom reminds her to go and brush her teeth. In a few minutes she returns to her keyboard.
As the plane’s pieces burn furiously, Amy gets up to look around, and is transported back to the point of impact, where she finds the others already waiting for her, along with Mr. Weatherby, their science teacher. Amy notices that he looks rather odd dressed in a full military uniform, but then I suppose any panda might look odd dressed as an Air force General. The fact that Mr. Weatherby had chosen to look like a giant panda this semester was no longer news – but Amy still thought the idea of a panda in uniform was fun – she was, after all, still eleven, and liked the fact that her grade 6 science teacher is a giant panda. She loved animals, but then again, she also liked Ms. Rose’s phantom of the opera avatar, even if it was a pretty obvious choice for a music teacher.
“How nice of you to join us.” Said the uniformed panda.
“Sorry, I was AFK”, offered Amy, without further explanation. Since the actual time lapse was small, Mr. Weatherby left it at that. Mr. Weatherby continued, “So. What went wrong guys?”
Krista piped up. “That mud was not supposed to be there!”
“That’s what I said too.” said a tiny voice coming from a small grasshopper sitting on a long blade of grass. The panda looked over at it and told it to wait until they all got back to the classroom, whereupon it vanished.
“Did you fully check the conditions?” asked the panda.
To which Kevin responded with, “Sure.”
The panda turned to face Penny and said, “Who is watching the weather?”
Penny got noticeably smaller and said, “Me. I guess I forgot about yesterday’s rain.”
Mr. Weatherby continued, “Excellent, Penny. If you had remembered, what would you had done differently?” whereupon, Penny replied, “I’d had pushed for the alternate site – the last one we looked at.”
Then the Panda stepped back and said, “Make it so.”
Immediately, the five crew members were back at the previous save point – just before they plotted the ill-fated path. They laid in the alternate path and started again. This time everything went as predicted. The landing was still bumpy, but there was no serious damage, and they all got up to exit their plane, this time intact. Amy’s cat came in the room and settled down to knead the fuzzy slippers that were now scattered under Amy’s computer desk. Amy gently rubbed the cat’s back with her feet.
Amy clicked to open the plane’s exit door and jumped through it, only to find herself on a large platform that had about fifteen other students of all shapes and sizes already sharing their own experiences with their planes. She noticed the little grasshopper was still not with his own group, but Mr. Weatherby had produced a lovely butterfly net from his bag and was about to fix that. Amy thought that Christopher – the grasshopper – was more fun when they met in person than he was in class.All around in the sky and on the ground, she could see other planes “retracing their steps” – in some cases flying off and then reappearing, and in other cases the plane remained essentially stationary, while the air currents, made visible by the addition of various colours, passed by.
Eventually, Mr. Weatherby reminded them all that it was time to gather their thoughts in their individual logs, and queue up suggestions for design mods for the next flight test. He also reminded them that Ms. Rose, the music teacher, could only be online for the next hour, so if they wanted her immediate and direct help, they had to go to the concert hall right away.
Amy had already completed that section of the work, so she decided to go see what was happening in the Social Realms (where much of the social studies curriculum was anchored) – her experience with the failed landing had reminded her that she had left a crisis in mid-stream in her Renaissance simulation when she had finished school for the day yesterday. Although she was technically in grade six, she was particularly fascinated by history, and had worked her way through to the eighth grade modules, where she was trying to build Florence into the great city-state it became. In an instant Amy became Lucrezia Nencia de Bernardigio, a widow and head of a wealthy family living in the Oltrarno, and transported to the Social Realms.