The Game: Chapter 19

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Chapter 19

Normally, moderating was fun; it appealed to August's enjoyment of leading people into the behaviors she chose for them. But this week, her three shifts dragged to infinity and beyond.

August tried some poker to pass the time in between. It was shockingly bad. At first she put it down to luck, but eventually had to admit it was something else: always the same distracting thoughts causing idiotic errors, which made her angry, causing more errors. Poker was a game of composure. When you lost your head, you lost your chips.

Unable to do anything else, she focused on preparation for the next time she got ahold of James Kirkpatrick. But there was only so much to do. After three days, August was climbing the walls; midway through the fifth, she began to wonder what was wrong with her. She had never been this anxious and impatient in her life.

The conversation with John weighed heavily. Everything he had said was true. Three failed years on assignment—with nothing to show for it but a cushy job at UCC that she actually enjoyed—made August both sound and feel like a traitor. She had access to the inner workings of UCC, yet could find nothing to implicate anyone: not Donald Marsh, Daisy Egan, or James Kirkpatrick; not the Easter Bunny, Peter Pan or anyone else. It was frustrating, maddening to know that things were taking place right under her nose and that she didn't have the wit to search them out.

Though deep down in the heart August had locked away as a useless hindrance, she was almost ready to believe they were clean. Not just James. All of them.

Finally, on the night of the fifth day while August was in-game spinning her wheels, her phone beeped an alert: James Kirkpatrick had logged in. She began typing a message, erased it, began again, erased it again and growled in frustration.

She couldn't call him first.

Pushing aggressively because of her mission's stagnation had been a mistake. It was important to keep the benefit of the doubt with James, even if that meant biting her lip so hard that it almost bled, willing him to call.

But he didn't. And didn't. An hour later he logged off, and August slumped with a physically nauseating sense of defeat. She went to bed and lay awake for three hours, knowing that everything she had worked for was slipping away, and not knowing how to stop it.

***

When August awoke, the faded light of a frozen winter morning did nothing to warm her.

Without any idea what to do, she logged into Shattered Land. She had no work, and no ability to play poker in her current condition. For someone whose life contained nothing that was solely for enjoyment, that left her at a loss. She was in such a state that when her phone rang in her pocket, she almost screamed.

Bloody hell, get a grip.

"Yes, hello?" August said, without checking the caller ID—superstitiously believing that if she looked, it wouldn't be him.

"Hey," James said. "Good timing. About to leave for work, but I came on to see if you were around."

"Thanks for calling," August said, not caring how James interpreted her gratitude. Melodramatic as it was, she felt like his call had saved her—from going crazy, if nothing else.

"Meant to call last night, but I fell asleep while logged in. Turns out the headset shuts down if it detects sleep patterns. Anyway, you wanted to team up for the event?"

"If it's alright with you. I may not be a match for team 28 without moddy privileges and all, but I'm not half bad," August said, and immediately wondered why she had said that. She needed to be building herself up, not reminding James of just how amazing everyone else that he knew seemed to be.

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