Bone Diggers - Chapter One

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Owen felt like a jerk for coming to thesemeetings. Like a predator who had evolved, over millennia, into an asshole. These people were technically his people—video gamers—but they wouldn't exactly be welcoming if they knew what he did for money.

"Hello, my name is Grant, and I dream of 16th century Age of Shadows." The current speaker at the podium was young. Anywhere else would have carded him.

"Hello, Grant," Owen said, tiredly and in unison with everyone else. He was sure Grant's story was good. The stories were always good. But Owen doubted many people could really follow along, since Grant had picked up a poor French accent. Not the type that comes with being a native speaker, but the sort that sticks after hearing it spoken for a while. Occasionally, one of Grant's words would slip completely into French as if the English variant had been forgotten. The man had problems. That's probably why he joined the group.

Not understanding the man wasn't Owen's problem. No, just the opposite. Many people in game changed their controls to the Native Speaker option. You'd never find an arena player doing that, but serious roleplayers claimed it was more authentic. Owen wouldn't argue with that logic. He did it too, after all.

Help, however, wasn't why Owen was sitting in on the meeting. He'd be able to afford rent this month by simply figuring out if this particular video game addict was still playing or not. His bread and butter was made off of paranoid mothers and private investigators who needed computer classes. People like him were called bone diggers—players who dug deeper past the pixels until they found the bones behind the controls. This particular hunter sat with an elbow propped on the armrest and his fingers trailing up to his temple in a vain effort to fight off a growing headache.

"Thanks, Grant," the room around Owen chimed. Grant stepped away from the group, lured by the refreshments laid out in the back of the room.

Owen took this as his chance and pushed himself up off the chair. He waited for Grant to fill a little paper cup, and pretended to divide his attention between the last speaker and the current one. "French faction?" Owen whispered.

"It's obvious, isn't it?" Grant said, with a sudden frown. "You too?"

Owen shook his head, and waited for a slight lull before replying. "I've spent a lot of time in that region, though."

Grant nodded, one of those small, meek nods that contain nothing but bitter understanding. He paused, looking at Owen more critically as his eyes narrowed trying to recall him. "I don't remember seeing you here before."

"I tend to come and go." Owen admitted. He offered his hand in introduction. "Name's Owen."

"Nice to meet you," Grant said, as they shook hands.

"Thanks Grant," Owen smirked, and Grant coughed a laugh. "So, when is the last time you played?"

Grant paused with his water cup pressed against his lips as he shot a look across the room to his sponsor, Jimmy. "Last week," he confessed, and shifted his weight to the other foot. The truth always has a way of making people fidgety. "You?"

Now Owen was the one averting his eyes. "Last night..."

"Ah, that explains your sudden appearance."

But, it really didn't. Despite playing Age of Shadows daily, he hadn't experienced any of the unintentional side effects. His new headgear was far less likely to have bugs, and he didn't consider himself to have an addictive personality. Simply a part of the majority of Americans who played without any real world problems.

Jimmy walked over. He was an older guy whose steps had a limp, though Owen had never been able to figure out why. Owen moved out of Jimmy's way so he could reach a tray of cookies. Getting a nod in greeting, and possibly thanks, but no other words were exchanged. Likely because it wasn't polite to talk until the speaker in the front of the room finished.

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