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"Holy shit, you are such a dork."

"I know."

"You were talking to him for like an hour."

"I was."

"And you didn't recognize him."

"I did not."

"Holy shit, man."


"Holy motherfucking shit."


Once upon a yesterday, there lived a boy called Sigmund.

"Holy . . . You showed him our game!"

And a girl called Em.





It wasn't like Sigmund didn't know he'd been in the running for World's Most Influential Loser since circa 1990. He'd been himself for over twenty years now; things like that weren't exactly a surprise.

"So, like. What did he say?"

Monday. First day back at work after Christmas break. Outside was hot and bright and humid. Inside, Sigmund was getting the third degree from his best friend. One of them, at any rate.

"Um. He was pretty cool, I guess."

"You guess?"

Sigmund shrugged. That was the best he had. Hale had been nice. Personable, talkative. Polished. The guy was a goddamn CEO for Christ's sake. Sigmund figured he probably knew how to make small talk with the plebes.

"Dude. He's like the richest man on the planet. How did you not recognize him?"

Third richest. Sigmund had looked it up.

"I dunno, man," he said. "He was wearing jeans and a T-shirt. And was, like, talking to me. It's not exactly something you expect, y'know?"

"Dude. I swear . . ."

Sigmund held up his hands to stop whatever felt like coming next. "I know, I know," he said. "Believe me, there's nothing you can tell me I haven't already told myself."

A litany of excuses: It was twilight, he'd been drinking, Hale looked younger in person. And taller. And spoke with a slightly different voice. And what it all really boiled down to was the fact that guys like Sigmund didn't get accidentally chatted up by guys like Hale. Didn't sit in the grass for an hour, nursing lukewarm beer and getting their nerd on over shitty hobby RPGs. Not with the owner of Utgard fucking Entertainment (among other things), one of the most awesomest game development studios on the planet.

In the car, on the way home from the party, Sigmund's dad had been oddly silent. Sigmund had expected him to freak, to hassle Sigmund over not, like, getting Hale to be his buddy on LinkedIn or whatever. (Not that it would help, given Sigmund's stunning lack of a profile on said service.) Or maybe he'd been expecting Dad to be angry, yell at him for wasting the CEO's time and getting them both fired for his trouble. But Dad hadn't done any of that. He'd just been quiet, and they'd driven home and gone to bed, and by Saturday it had been as if the whole party had never happened. Dad hadn't mentioned it, and neither had Sigmund, and now here he was. Back at the office. Not fired, not noticed. Not even gossiped about, at least not until he'd opened his big mouth to blab to Em. Just another average day in the Basement.

It wasn't the literal basement, of course: It was the seventh floor. But it was where IT lived, so Sigmund figured it was going to end up being called the Basement no matter how high it was above sea level.

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