The Game: Chapter 10

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Chapter 10

It wasn't until Tuesday night that James found time for Shattered Land.

The business plan was wrapped up by seven on Monday, but then he went to visit his mother and had more to say than usual. When he got home, he discovered that the second season of The Darkest Heart had been released. He watched twelve episodes in a row and fell asleep on the couch. By the time he woke up, he had to scramble not to be late for work.

The day passed like most days: uneventfully. James had always made a habit of carefully selecting his jobs to be ones that would never amount to more than a passing way to make a buck. The back of his mind acknowledged that working ten or twelve hours a day at menial jobs was time-inefficient; a five-day work week with a decent salary and a company car would leave a lot more time for writing and Joseph Stenton. Yet James stubbornly stuck to filler jobs, always moving on to the next if either he or his employer became too serious.

He told himself that the reason was reluctance to wade so deep into a job that it would follow him home from work. He had seen too much of that from his father: the briefcase always open, the laptop on the kitchen table, the not now, after I finish this, by which time James would be long abed. Of course, James had no children, no wife, and no commitments but two nights a week with a scant conversationalist. Somewhere between his logic and reality, the argument would break down if pressed too hard.

That he was thinking about it at all was Donald's fault, really.

What's the deal? You gonna live this way forever?

James put the headset on, even as he suspected the act was a step toward breaking a symbolic barrier.

The disorientation of entry now lasted only a fraction of a second. Maybe it had something to do with how much information the system pulled out of his head on the way in; it must be getting to know him pretty well.

James was back in the same hotel room from the other night. Or was he? There were probably five hundred rooms that looked exactly the same. Or maybe they were instanced, like the lower forest, and ten thousand people could emerge simultaneously from the same one.

First was to stand in front of the mirror and get a glimpse of today's foolishness, but James was in simple jeans and t-shirt again. The pimp suit from last time had probably been a way of trying to cheer himself up. It was bizarre to judge his own mood from his clothes because the game knew him better than he did himself.

Looking closely, there was a slight difference from before. His shirt looked like any cotton t-shirt off the rack at Walmart, but on the front was a logo: a picture of a heart. Not a Valentine's heart, but a biological heart, valves and all, shaded three-dimensionally in glinting gunmetal grey. Superimposed over it in were the words: Hagane no Kokoro.

James pulled out his phone, wondering what to do for the night. Lo and behold, too many things were presented; eight texts and two vidmails had been received in the days since his unscheduled debut.

Most were from Donald, bitching about James not coming online more often. But leaving a bunch of messages in game was a pretty inefficient way of chastising him for not coming into the game, so presumably Donald wasn't that mad.

There was a short text from Julia Bannigan, offering to help out if James needed anything, and one from Kanade, containing precise instructions on how to call other players or respond to messages. Attached was a photo of Wigglewaggle perched atop a stone statue's head, with caption: He's been roosting on everything in sight but never seems satisfied. I think he misses you!

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