Kass yawned as she opened her eyes and stretched her arms above her head. Eugh . . . Why does it taste like a stray cat pooped in my mouth? I don’t own a cat, do I? Dad never let me keep a cat, she wondered groggily, smacking her lips as she sat up and looked around for the glass of water she typically left on her nightstand. She knew first hand that the awful taste she was experiencing usually only came as an unfortunate side effect of drinking the night before. The only problem was that she had spent the better part of the night in Tiqpa gaming, not drinking. Not that a vodka tonic wouldn’t have been amazing to take the edge off, she thought, remembering all the tedious traveling she had been doing in the game lately–and not to mention all of the awkward conversations with Darwin. But if I wasn’t out at the bar last night, she puzzled, what caused me to have such awful dry mouth so early in the mor . . . Oh.
Rather than having to waste more time trying to figure out why her mouth had the smacking taste of an ashtray filled with stale cigarettes, she realized that the culprit was right there in front of her. Or, rather, underneath her: the outline of a rapidly drying pool of drool on her pillow. She self-consciously glanced both ways with a quick jerk of her head and darting of her eyes as if she were checking to make sure no one saw her. She knew no one would be in her room, especially while she was asleep, but that didn’t stop her from checking anyway. Reaching down, she unceremoniously flipped her pillow over to hide the evidence and smoothed down the top of the pillowcase as if nothing had ever happened. She then checked herself in the mirror and, much to her relief, was pleased to find that the drool pool demon had left most of her face and all of her hair unaffected.
As she was wiping off her face, she realized she had a yellow sticky note stuck to the back the sleeve of the t-shirt she had slept in. I must have rolled over on it in the night, she thought, looking at the quickly scribbled memo containing the media company’s hotline number.
She still wasn’t sure what she was going to do with it. On one hand, as an out of work college graduate with a bad gaming habit that ate up more free time than watching sleepy kittens on YouTube, the money it promised was definitely a desperately needed bonus. On the other hand, however, she felt like calling the number would be betraying everyone. They had spent so much time together and gone through so much. The whole act of talking about Darwin’s guild and divulging information felt like it would be a stab in the back to the entire faction.
She tried not to think about it as she grabbed her fluffy, pink bathrobe from the closet, threw it on, and began meandering towards the kitchen downstairs. 12:00? Noon? She questioned herself as she passed by the clock hanging on the wall beside the stairs. Did I actually sleep past noon? When is the last time that’s ever happened?
“Don’t tell me you’re just now waking up,” Robert said as she plodded into the kitchen. He stopped typing and looked up at her over the laptop he had set up on the kitchen table. “Well, at least the coffee’s fresh. I just made it.”
“Well,” Kass grumbled in return as she tried to focus on getting her head to stay squarely on top of her shoulders until she could get some proper caffeine in her, “you can blame your stupid game’s traveling system.” Mornings are the worst. It gets harder to wake up every year. It’s like they’re trying to ease you into sleeping forever so death doesn’t come as a shock. “Whoever came up with the idea of ‘Hey, let’s make a fully-realized, life-sized world for the player to navigate’ should have been made to walk across it himself and spend time considering how annoying it would be to traverse before even having a real mount.”
“So, you want the game to contain a system that lets you always magically appear wherever you need to be without having to travel?” Robert chuckled, “What would be the fun in that?”
“Well, maybe not always allow me to instantly get everywhere I want, but at least let me skip the areas that are tedious and only built for travel–like boat rides, for example.” Kass poured herself a cup of coffee and sat down at the table next to her father.
“That doesn’t sound so bad, but there is still a problem with that,” Robert said, closing his computer and turning to give Kass his full attention. “You’d lose over half the world, ya’ filthy landlubber.”
“Landlubber?” Kass looked at him, blinking in confusion. “Do people still say that?”
“Yeah. Do you think that boat rides are all smooth sailing? Don’t you remember that Pirates of the Caribbean movie franchise? The ninjas vs. pirate memes? Those days when yaaaaaarrrrrrrg was okay to say in public? And, most importantly, the times you could say landlubber to your daughter without her looking at you like you just said something like YOLO,” Robert explained as he got up to get himself another cup of coffee.
“Ewwww . . . Isn’t being stuck on the ocean awful enough as it is? Don’t tell me that I have to worry about getting attacked by a bunch of smelly pirates who haven’t taken a shower in three years or something. Wait . . . I don’t, do I?” Kass frowned as she considered the idea of having a bunch of flea-ridden pirates suddenly attacking the ship with everyone on it.
“Kass, you’re the only person I know who gets that sick from a simple boat ride. Don’t act like we’re going to change an entire game function that we spent years developing just because the daughter of someone who works at the company gets seasick so easily.” He shook his head as he poured his coffee. “You shouldn’t even be experiencing sea sickness in the game anyway. It’s all just in your head. Although,” Robert paused dramatically, “I suppose there is at least one form of nepotism that might help you . . .”
Kass already knew what he was going to suggest before the words even came out of his mouth. “Dad, come on, you know I can’t do that.”
“Hey, I’m just saying . . . Paying a little rent and helping out with some of your expenses sure as hell wouldn’t hurt my feelings,” he grumbled. “It’s been a while, Kass. It’s a cushy job that most people would kill for the opportunity to get.”
It was also a job that actually meant she would have to give up playing her beloved video game, a game designed by her dad’s company, forever. The contract an employee signed when they joined said that they could only play on the test servers and that they weren’t allowed to interfere or interact with the public servers at all. “Dad, we’ve already talked about this. Do we have to have the same talk again?”
“No. No, we don’t. Do you have any other job prospects?”
Kass’s hand instinctively squeezed the piece of paper with the number on it that she had held on to for some reason. “Yeah, you could say that I’ve got an iron in the fire. I’m just trying not to jinx it by talking about it.”
She was confident this would get him off her back, maybe for a week if she were lucky. Her dad wasn’t the kind of guy who was superstitious enough that he wouldn’t pester her about the details, but she knew he wouldn’t want to mess up her chances of getting whatever vague job she was referring to if she thought it would. That having been said, he did have some kind of magic dad-power to know when she was lying. She hadn’t been able to get away with just vague answers like that very often in the past.
“Alright, Pumpkin,” he said with a wicked smile. He knew it would irritate her to be called that. “I won’t pressure you, but you better not go at this half-cocked.”
“Fine, fine,” Kass grumbled, resisting the urge to get mad at him for calling her ‘Pumpkin’ when he knew how much it bothered her. “Now, where is my breakfast?”
“Do I look like your personal chef? And don’t you mean lunch?” He feigned indignation, but took another shot at mocking her for waking up so late in the day.
“You’re missing an apron with something silly like, ‘I’m not getting older; I’m marinating,’ but, other than that . . . Yep. You do!” Kass laughed as she sipped her coffee again. She wasn’t fully awake, but the caffeine was definitely starting to kick in.
“Sorry, sweetheart, I have to get back to work. After everything that’s gone on lately, things are really starting to get a little hectic and pile up again.” He took another sip of his coffee and stood up. “Someone in the fight went around casting a petrification spell that was way more powerful than anything a player in the game should have access to at the moment. We had to dedicate a ton of time and resources to try and fix the problems it created.”
“Wait, a petrification spell?” Kass almost spit out her coffee at that little bit of news. “Are you sure it wasn’t just a Gorgon?”
“No,” Robert shook his head with a small laugh. “It was definitely a petrify spell, but whoever cast it used such an advanced version that it permanently froze NPCs and turned players to stone for a full twelve hours.” Robert was doing the best he could to grab his coat and pour his coffee into a travel mug at the same time as he began moving around the kitchen. “Even the hardest bosses in the game shouldn’t be capable of freezing a player for more than a few hours; and, even then, they can be countered with high level magic. Those spells don’t even last longer than a three- or four-hour timer when used on players.”
Wait, Stephanie was the one who froze everyone. Isn’t she a Gorgon? Why would she need to use class-based magic? Kass’s brain scrambled for a second. “Are you sure it wasn’t a Gorgon?” she asked again.
Robert stopped moving about getting ready and looked at his daughter questioningly. “Yeah, I’m almost positive. Why would there be a Gorgon? Oh, don’t get me wrong, they’re in the game alright, but only much later on. How would it get to the starter islands and just happen to show up at the moment that huge fight broke out?”
“Just . . . Just call it a hunch and look into it for me. Please.”
“I’ll . . . See what I can find out.” Robert promised, but he still looked curious. “I’m supposed to have a meeting with the illustrious Grand Poobah Charles this afternoon, but I’ll try and work in some time to check it out afterwards. The last thing I need is to be late for my first private meeting with the mysterious owner of several multi-billion dollar corporations and have it be under bad circumstances. Not very many people have ever had the chance at a private meeting, and, even then, they wouldn’t say much about what was discussed. It’s almost like it was a very taboo, clandestine meeting or something.”
“Wow, and you want me to sign up and work for him?” Kass laughed at the horribly cliché TV boss figure.
“Well, the dental is pretty good,” Robert flashed a big smile showing lots of teeth to prove his point as he reached for the doorknob on his way out. “Not to mention, you’d have the best carpool buddy, and he comes pre-equipped with all the cool dad jokes.”
“Yeah, okay, Dad, whatever you say.”
Robert had just begun to turn the handle he was holding and leave when there came an abrupt knocking from the outside of the very door he was about to open. He paused, clearly shocked and uncertain about the unexpected surprise.
Her attention turning to the door, Kass suddenly realized that the sunlight which normally filtered into the kitchen through the opaque curtain hanging over the window was blocked out almost entirely by a shadowy form.
Robert cautiously opened the door halfway before saying, “Yes? Hello?”
Kass couldn’t see who was behind the door since her father blocked her view, and it was only partially open to begin with, but she could clearly hear the deep voice that responded.
“Dr. Charles is ready for you, sir.” The way he said it reminded Kass of being in the waiting room at a doctor’s office when a nurse came in to announce the next patient. She was certain, however, that any man belonging to a voice that sounded like that would have horrible bedside manners. “The car is waiting around front. We will take you to meet him.”
Robert nodded to the man behind the door as he spoke. “Hmm, alright. I wasn’t expecting a chauffeur, but why not?”
As her dad swung the door open to give him enough space to exit the kitchen, Kass was able to catch a glimpse of the man her father had talked with. It became readily apparent why the sunlight had been blocked out: the man was massive. He was so tall that she was almost certain he would have to duck to enter through the doorway, and he was thicker around than most of the trees throughout the neighborhood. Kass was immediately reminded of some of the larger football players she had seen on TV when her dad watched ESPN.
“Ugh, he really needs to stop ragging me about getting a job before I go crazy and start talking to myself in the kitchen,” Kass mused as she got up and went to the fridge to see what she could dig out for food. Oooo! Pop-Tarts! The food of my people, she mused to herself as she noticed them in the vegetable section of the fridge. Her dad had a way of trying to hide foods he wanted to eat in the vegetable section, confident that Kass would never open that drawer. At least he didn’t put them on the top shelf of the cabinets, she chuckled to herself as she grabbed the box and started to open it. That was so mean. Then again, the only reason he’s probably not doing it is because I used to scratch the counter tops climbing on top of them as a kid to get up there.
“So what do I do about you?” Kass muttered aloud for some reason as she stared at the number on the paper.
After devouring her Pop-Tart like it was the last sheep in a cyclop’s cave, she picked up her phone and finally gave in to temptation.
It didn’t even ring a second before a friendly female voice answered: “Hello! This is G.O.R.N! The Gamer’s Official Review Network.”
“Yeah, great, I’m calling about the offer you–” Kass started explaining, before she was interrupted.
“Someone will be with you in just a moment to take your call. Please enjoy the music while you wait,” the lady’s voice continued.
What? What happened to robots that sounded like robots? Who puts a long pause after an introduction? Kass tried to feel less stupid about talking to the answering machine like it was a person. That said, the music wasn’t half as bad as some of the other stations that insisted on playing country or another awful mix of repetitive, downer tunes. Most places she was used to calling seemed to pick out their melodies based on ‘What is most likely to get a person to hang up and commit suicide.’
“This is Kerrigan from G.O.R.N. How can I be of service?” a peppy voice finally broke into the repeating chorus of the song.
“Wait, your name . . . your real name is Kerrigan?” Kass had to stop herself from snickering.
“Yes. Yes, it is. I have absolutely no relation to anyone named Sarah though, so please don’t ask. Now, before we get sidetracked, whatchya callin’ for?”
“Oh, right! I’m calling about the cash offer made last night for an interview with the Hydra-riding lady on Tiqpa.”
“Excellent! So tell me what information you have on her. We haven’t been able to get even a single bit of info on her yet, so give me what you have, and I’ll write it down with your name and address. If it turns into a good lead, we’ll send you $50 and some complimentary station memorabilia as thanks.”
“Actually, I’m the girl who was riding the Hydra.” Kass could actually hear her sigh on the other side of the line as soon as she said it.
“Okay, okay, you’re the fourth one today.” Kerrigan sighed. “Look, do you know how to access the past 24 hours of playtime and put together a game clip?”
“Yeah, I know how to do that,” Kass said, happy for the first time since she got the game that her dad had made her actually read the manual and had gone over all the features with her.
“Oh, that’s a surprise. Everyone else who called didn’t even know that was possible. So that’s great! Then can you put together a one minute clip of your choosing from during the fight to send to the station?”
“Good, then put together that clip and send it as well as a number you’d like to be contacted at to ImNotSarah@aol.com.”
“You still use AOL? I thought that went extinct with the dinosaurs. Did you get a free AARP subscription with the account?”
“ . . . Just send the clip.”
“Okay, will do.”
“Great, we’ll call you after we confirm you are who you say you are. Look forward to talking to you then.”
Kass hung up the phone and went upstairs to pick out the clip. She knew she would have to be careful about what clip she sent. She needed them to be able to confirm that she was who she said she was, but she also needed to make sure that she wasn’t giving away important details about the StormGuard Alliance.
She finally gave up on finding a clip that showed off her good side and decided to just randomly put together a clip of one of the fight scenes that didn’t involve a conversation and submitted it. She had titled the email, “Whatever you say Ghosty, how’s Jim?” She still wasn’t sure if she made the right decision and was nervous about even doing this since it felt a little sleazy to be making money off work that was mostly Darwin’s.
She was about to beat herself up about the whole thing when her phone rang. It hadn’t even been two minutes since she had sent the email when her cell phone started buzzing. Unknown Number. Great, it’s either them or yet another telemarketer.
“Hello?” she answered, trying to make sure it was the people from G.O.R.N before she identified herself.
“I am telling you, I have no relation at all to any Sarah or Jim! Well, actually, I have a dog named Jim, but his last name isn’t Raynor! Though he is fine, thanks for asking,” a voice fussed at her over the phone.
“Whatever you say, Kerrigan. I take it you got my email?”
“Yeah, I did, and you are definitely the Hydra-riding girl in question. Dang, it was amazing just watching that clip. I already emailed it to my boss, but since they don’t get in until they’ve finished doing golf or whatever it is old people do nowadays to avoid work–you know how bosses are–I’m supposed to set up a preliminary meeting with you to discuss the interview and go over all the financial terms. For one interview, you’re probably looking at only two to three thousand dollars . . . Maybe five if you work your cards right and have some unique information to offer. They’ll also want to see some clips, and you’ll have to go over exclusivity rights before any money is paid. So, what time is good for you, you know, to have the meeting?”
Kass was sure she was supposed to stop Kerrigan from going on, but the second $2,000 had been mentioned for a single interview, her mouth promptly touched the floor. Her dad was bugging her over $500 dollars of rent a month, and, yes, she knew she was spoiled, so two grand was a really big number to her. That said, when the number grew to $5,000, she wasn’t really able to process it anymore. If the amount of drool that had escaped her gaping mouth over the course of a night was considered a puddle, then the drool pool under her dropped jaw was already collecting enough to be a veritable sea.
“Hello?” Kerrigan said again after a long pause. “I didn’t lose you, did I? Ugh, I hate my cell phone provider. Why is there only one alternative? It’s like picking anything from banks to politicians has to always be the less stinky of two turds. Come on, don’t tell me I lost you, girl. My boss will kill me if I lost rights to the biggest exclusive in Tiqpa this month. Tell you what: I’ll talk to the boss, and we’ll see if we can get you $6,000. Just say something. Tell me you’re on board, and please don’t hang up to go see if you can get a better deal elsewhere. I’ll lose my job! Then how will I feed my zer . . . how will I pay rent?”
“Were you about to say zerglings?”
“No, why would I say that? Just to see if you were still listening? Me? Never.”
“Okay, fine. I’ll come in. I think tomorrow or maybe even today is going to be good for me. Can I email you the best time?”
“Sure, do what you have to do and shoot me an email. If today is good for you, the boss gets in around two, so any time after that, he’ll be able to organize the screening. I promise we’ll make this worth your while. Just put together some good clips so we can make a great deal.”
“Alright, will do.”
“Oh, and one last thing . . .”
“Do you know the guy in the bathrobe? Is he a player or an NPC?”
“I . . . I’m not sure I can tell you that.”
“Wow, cryptic much? Anyways, email me what time is good for you. I guess now I can say I look forward to seeing you.”
Kass exchanged parting pleasantries with Kerrigan and went to go log on to Tiqpa. Now I just need to figure out how much more boat time I have, Kass thought, logging into the game against her better judgment. After all, every moment she was logged in while the ship was rocking meant she had to deal with the awful queasy feeling that came with the churning motion of a boat on the water. She stepped out of the cabin she had logged off in and was immediately greeted by Valerie and Mclean.
“Oh! How are you doing, Lady Kass?” Valerie asked cheerfully with a smile so big Kass couldn’t tell if it was fake or not.
“Ummm,” Kass held her stomach in the hope of putting off the inevitable vomit, “I’m . . . I’m okay. How much longer till we reach land?”
“I don’t know. A few hours. Daniel went out to fly around and check on everything, but we haven’t heard back from him in an hour. Figured it was a good chance to catch up on girl time. Want to join?” Mclean sounded as chipper as Valerie did.
How do people stay this cheery on such an awful contraption as a boat? Kass wondered, doing her best to choke down the inevitable upchuck. “No. No, I need to go do something.”
“Ah, gonna join Darwin and Alex for spoon sparring?”
“Yeah, Darwin was dual-wielding spoons and sparring with Alex all morning. I was honestly a little reluctant to log on just to wait on a boat, but then I saw Darwin sparring with cutlery. It was a mix between, ‘Wow that’s a magnificent sparring match’ and ‘How much more ridiculous could this guy get?’”
“Uhh, no, I need to do something in the real world. Just wanted to see how much longer we had.”
“You have until around mid afternoon if you want to be safe about it. I didn’t expect the trip to be this long, but Justin Yoo said Darwin shifted course to a more eastward point. No idea why, but it does mean less chance of running into any White-Wings wondering why we left the faction.”
Okay, good, that means I can make it there and be back in time, Kass thought, looking at the two and then looking at the door. I really don’t want to be rude to our new faction members, but, “Alright, ladies, I have to run. Work stuff. See you ‘round!”
“Later!” the two of them waved bye to her as she rushed back into the cabin and logged off.
Even as she returned to reality she could still feel the gentle rocking on the insides of her stomach as her breakfast tried to escape. This game is too real for its own good. Sometimes it feels less like logging into a game and more like traveling to an alternate dimension.