69 Updates and Resets
| Vir-Tech Labs |
When his seventh employee collapses, however, Visby reevaluates his previous optimism.
Heaving a sigh, he rouses one of his best programmers, Ding Fan, by vigorously shaking his shoulder and saying, "Oy, Ding Fan, wake up."
Visby is not known for being particularly gentle, especially when he's on Day Who's-Even-Counting-Any-More without sleep.
Ding Fan jolts awake and immediately types a line of code out of habit.
Visby's impressed to see the code's actually viable. He might press for Ding Fan to get a raise at the next performance review.
Ding Fan's thick tortoise-shell glasses sit askew on his face, and he's too exhausted to bother righting them. One cheek is marked with criss-crossing lines from his keyboard, and his eyes are red-rimmed from the spontaneous crying everyone in the department has been experiencing on and off for the last sixteen hours.
Visby transitions from shaking his friend into giving him a stiff, awkward pat on his shoulder.
From where Stacey's sitting, it looks how she imagines a robot mimicking human emotions would try to execute the command for "Initiate Comfort Protocols."
She wonders if maybe he's been spending too much time communicating with the System AI.
"Ding Fan, no more code right now," Visby says.
Ding Fan blinks up at him, bleary-eyed. "But there's always more code," he objects, confused.
Shaking his head, Visby gestures to the other four programmers passed out on or below their desks, the intern curled up on the floor hugging the copy machine like it's a body pillow, and the cyber security analyst who somehow fell asleep standing up in the middle of the room.
"Right now, I'm going upstairs to tell Boss there's no way in Dante's Nine Hells we're going to be ready to re-launch tomorrow. Best we can do is January 3rd, but I'm hoping he'll let us postpone until the 4th."
Ding Fan's eyes get wide behind his thick frames. "Is that even allowed?"
"We have no choice. I'm sending everyone home for the next twelve hours and telling Security not to let anyone back in until that full time has passed."
"But why?" Ding Fan asks incredulously. He can't remember the last time he'd left the office for a full twelve hours.
Stacey spins in her office chair and lets out a quiet cheer. "People need sleep, and they need real food that doesn't come from a vending machine, and dear gods they desperately need real showers. Rinsing off in the company shower stalls is not cutting it. I was actually getting worried the body odor fumes were going to poison us all soon."
Visby sniffs the air experimentally. He doesn't smell anything. Surely Stacey's exaggerating.
Stacey rolls her eyes and mutters, "He who can't smell it, smells like it," under her breath.
Visby can't hear her, so he simply shrugs and claps to get everyone's attention.
At least she's right about the rest of it. They need this break, and he's going to convince Zhao Jianyu to give it to them.
Boss should agree. Everyone's half-dead already. And it won't hurt that the AI recently mentioned that given a little extra time, it could implement a few ways to thwart the corporate bastards already messing with the game flow. Zhao Jianyu's always into creative plays like that.
(If the AI had also mentioned it had a few ideas to fuck with a particularly annoying chaos-wielding D'Raven, well that's simply a bonus, isn't it?)
| Eric's Apartment Building, Seattle |
When I land on the roof of my building around midnight, Theo, Deion, Robbie, and Alopix are all waiting for me.
Or, at least, it's nice right up until Deion half-hugs, half-strangles me and calls me a brainless dumbass, which I tell him is redundant, and then he tells me my face is redundant, and then it only devolves further from there.
We might have continued down this spiral of spewing infantile insults forever, if not for Robbie and Theo.
"Pops, how come Dad and Uncle Eric are fighting and hugging at the same time?" Robbie asks Theo.
"Because they have the relative intelligences of idiot children who have eaten too much playground sand," Theo replies. "At least Eric can use his brain damage to explain his behavior," he adds.
"I'm not brain damaged!" I object loudly.
"At least Theo gave you an excuse!" Deion yells back.
Theo just gives us his most withering Teacher Stare, and I feel it so deeply in my soul, I'm surprised I don't spontaneously combust.
"Are you boys quite finished?" he asks quietly.
"Yes, Theo," we reply, immediately letting go of each other.
Pix looks disappointed. He's a big fan of group hugs.
"Then let's get the invalid inside," Theo says. "Dinner's ready."
I open my mouth to fight the invalid comment, but my stomach lets out a hungry growl so loud, it swallows up my protests.
Pix growls as well, in solidarity.
Robbie then howls like a wolf, because it's fun.
Deion joins him, because he really is an overgrown child.
At times like these, I wonder why Theo bothers teaching high school, when he has his own zoo to look after here at home.
Then I see his lips twitch, and his eyes crinkle fondly, and I think maybe he enjoys the chaos.
Giving in to the general madness, I throw my back and join the dog-human wolf pack howling at the moon hanging high about Seattle.
It feels good.
After dinner, I'm not quite ready to go back to my apartment, though Theo assures me he cleaned up the blood. All four of us plus Pix pile onto the couch and watch maybe one-and-a-half episodes of Dragon Ball Omega Infinity before we all fall asleep curled up together.
When I wake up, I'm feeling more refreshed and ready to take on the world than I have in a long while.
Vir-Tech might be shady as shit, but it seems like they really can help my sister. It's hard not to be excited at the prospect.
After breakfast and a run with Deion and Pix, I finally go home. Naturally, the V-Haven technician arrives when I'm in the middle of my shower, so I have to awkwardly answer the door wrapped in a towel with water still dripping down my shoulders.
I don't trust Vir-Tech, but it's not like I know enough about their technology to be able to tell if they put anything sketchy in my pod. I also kind of doubt they need to do so; I'm essentially working for them at this point, and it's not like the V-Havens don't already tell them everything about me.
They don't need to add spyware or anything; the pods give them direct access to my brain.
So I leave the technician to do his thing while I finish cleaning up and get dressed. Then I hop onto my computer and surf the Viren's Refuge forums for any news.
A huge grin breaks out on my face when I see my avatar name plastered all across the game sites. People noticed my First Clears, apparently.
My grin falters a bit when I realize that the damn Boxers Bro video has a million more hits than any other post about my actual exploits.
Luckily, no one has made the connection between Erebus, Nightmare Mode Clearer, and Boxers Bro, Hot Pink Trash D'Raven.
As I go to close the Boxers Bro tab, something grabs my attention.
The original poster's name.
Dark lines cross my face, and I bite down on my jerky harder than necessary.
I'm gonna kill that kid.
My murderous attitude isn't helped by the fact that the next dozen posts I see are all about Polemos and his apocalyptic crew.
They managed to snag 5 First Clears before they ran out of low-leveled dungeons, the bastards. And since the Four Horsemen are all playing Humans (BORING. Like I didn't have enough reasons to despise these asshats) they've all leveled up to 12, with Polemos at 13. Most people seem to think he must be the highest-level player in the game so far.
That makes me smirk again.
I can't wait to distribute my Free Attribute points for hitting Level 15.
Speaking of, I glance at the time and realize I should be able to log back in soon. Hyped, I stand up to check on the status of my V-Haven.
Then an alert banner pops up on the Viren's Refuge forum site.
[SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT: ATTENTION ALL VIREN'S REFUGE PLAYERS!]
[Due to the high number of patches and upgrades required after the first day of Official Play, Viren's Refuge will be unavailable until 20:00 China Standard Time, 4 January. We're sorry for this inconvenience, but hope this delay demonstrates our dedication to excellence. We would never present you with anything but the absolute best. Thank you for your patience, and we look forward to welcoming you back home to Viren's Refuge soon!]
When I click on the link provided below the announcement, I see a sample of the patches and upgrades list. My sinking disappointment is quickly overtaken by guilt, as I recognize that perhaps I maaay have had something to do with the need for most of these patches.
With a grumble, I shut down my monitor and stalk out to the living room, where the tech is still installing various gizmos to my pod. Guess I no longer need to pester the guy to hurry up.
Sighing, I head into what would probably be a spare bedroom in a normal person's apartment. In this apartment, however, it's a library/arcade/mini-theater.
Only one thing calms me down when I'm frustrated by a game.
Playing other games.
Xiuying is the one-time retro Galaga and current retro Arkanoid record-holder. You won't find her name on any record sites, though. She didn't do it for the fame. She didn't do it for the glory. She didn't even do it for the love of the game.
She did it to piss me off.
Every time I go into this game room and turn on the giant arcade junker Arkanoid, I have to stare at her unbeatable score and the name she decided to immortalize.
We made a deal when we were kids. Top Score bragging rights are all well and good, but what's the point of winning if you can't humiliate the loser as well?
(Especially when said loser is that most intense of rivals—the dreaded sibling.)
So whoever tops a leader board gets full rights to be a petty dick, if they so choose.
And we always so choose.
We hacked all the arcade games to increase the characters available for high score names because that's exactly the kind of thing you do when you're over-educated and left home alone too often as children, and you need more letters to reach Peak Petty.
For example, Arkanoid currently stares back at me with this screen:
THE FOLLOWING ARE THE RECORDS OF THE BRAVEST FIGHTERS OF ARKANOID
1ST 1735820 ERICSUX
2ND 1688960 FUXIU
3RD 1674740 BACK@U
4TH 1672280 BBYBRO
5TH 1599860 STFUSIS
(Translation: Eric Sucks! Fuck You, Xiu. Back at You, Baby Bro. Shut the fuck up, Sis.)
Two weeks after I broke the esports APM* world record, I managed to unseat my sister from her place as a two-game record-holder.
I beat her Galaga record by 410 points:
1ST 11,844,630 XIUIZEW
2ND 11,844,220 GGBRO
That "Xiu iz Ew" was especially sweet since she'd already "Good Game"d me, which among the two of us is always sarcastic and generally means:
"Aww you gave it your best shot, good for you.
Now I'll tell you Good Game because it WAS good.
Because I won and kicked your ass and you suck bahahah I am the BEST and you are the WORST and life is great."
Unfortunately, the World Expo happened before Xiuying ever had a chance to regain her honor.
Now my record's just sitting there, waiting for someone to break it. And I'm just sitting here, broken and incapable of replicating even half that number.
I play arcade games for a couple hours, and let myself wallow and be an angsty brat. By the time I go to the kitchen in search of lunch, though, I force myself to get it together.
I eat a light meal, take Pix for a jog, then figure I've already been a masochist multiple times today, may as well go for broke and hit up the gym while I'm at it.
I don't kill Ken.
It almost kills me, holding myself back, but I remember how ripped my damn math teacher neighbor is, and it helps keep me focused.
I do buy copious amounts of alcohol on the way home and show up at said neighbor's door, however. Coping's important.
The next couple days follow a similar pattern of sleeping, eating, and working out, though I fill the rest of my hours with making plans for my return to Viren's Refuge.
I send Taliesin threatening messages to his personal account, then I include him on the group chat where I detail my plan to steal Nightmare Mode First Clears out from under the Four Horsemen Asshats.
He adds Kara and Jade to the chat without me having to ask, so I can tell he really does feel bad about the whole Boxers Bro thing.
I'm obviously not done milking my anger, but it's a solid start.
I also hear back from Alice Hou, telling me that Arachne's on the official visitor list. She'll be joining me on my next visit.
My parents apparently wouldn't sign the NDA, and they're raising a fuss about me moving Xiuying without warning.
For a second, I think maybe they're worried about their firstborn child, so I call them for the first time since they kicked me out six years ago.
Turns out, they're just upset because the new hospital is even more "out of the way" than the old one, and do I really think they have the spare time to be "traipsing all over the state" to visit their one and only daughter?
I wordlessly hang up on them and go to my second MMA class of the day.
Some times you just need to punch something, you know?
By the time I slide into my V-Haven at 5 a.m. local time, January 4th, I couldn't be more happy about finally returning where I actually feel I belong.