9. Party Up

We retook our seats, looking like refugees from an Oxfam shop. Captain Grayson once again sat on the edge of his desk.

“Any more questions?”

No one said anything. Probably not because they didn’t have questions, more likely because people had had enough. Nothing made sense and the only question that really mattered had already been answered with a big, fat no. We couldn’t go home.

“My men are preparing food for you, but we weren’t expecting so many, so it will take a little time. What I suggest you do is get into small groups of three or four and go have a look around town. It’s a small place that was originally built to help visitors like yourself. The people are quite friendly, but bear in mind they all carry weapons, so be polite and don’t start trouble. You might get a better idea of what to expect once you’ve seen a bit more. We’ll ring a bell when the food’s ready.”

People slowly got up and started forming groups. I remained seated and moved my hands in front of me playing imaginary whack-a-mole, trying to feel for any kind of interaction. I couldn’t shake the idea this had to be a game. If I could just access the status screen, maybe I’d be able to work out what I needed to do to level up.

“What are you doing?” asked Maurice.

“I’m looking for a way to access the user interface.” I continued to pat the air.

“You really think this is a game?”

“Yep.” I had no doubt, even though I had yet to find any actual evidence.

Maurice looked around, still squinting even though he had glasses now. “I don’t think the technology exists for this level of immersion.”

“I didn’t think ogres existed either,” I said.

“Fair point. Looks like everyone’s leaving.”

Having no luck with clicking on anything, I decided I should probably go have a look around town. The only people left in the room were a red-faced guy who had his arms folded and was staring at the ceiling for some reason, and two girls sat next to each other. One girl was a little plump with a round face that made her look fatter than she was. The other was very skinny and almost good-looking if it wasn’t for her huge nose.

Quick sidebar: It may seem like I’m a sexist twat who only sees women in terms of their looks, but I don’t think I treat women like they’re inferior. I notice what I notice. I’m not going to pretend I’m some New Age moron who sees all life as part of the same beautiful tapestry. The first thing I noticed about Maurice was that he’s black—and that’s despite him wearing a Batman onesie. Does that make me racist? I think it means my eyes work. Feel free to judge me how you want.

I headed for the door and the girl with the big nose stood up.

“Don’t you think we should form a group?” She said it almost as an accusation.

Damn, I’d almost made it to the door. I stopped and turned around. “Er, are you talking to me?”

“I get it, all right?” She seemed quite angry. At me in particular. “We’re the ones nobody wants to hang out with. The losers. More reason we should stick together. Or are you just another bastard willing to leave two girls alone in this FUCKING SHITHOLE!”

The blast at the end had me leaning back. I don’t really know how to handle angry girls, which is strange because my mother was like that for most of my childhood, so you’d think I’d be used to it. Then again, maybe that’s why it unnerves me so much. If you get angry back they turn up the volume, no bass, all treble. If you try to speak gently, they get mad because you aren’t taking them seriously. Back in the 1950s you could slap a screaming woman and she’d thank you for calming her down. Try that these days and you might get a slightly different response.

“I don’t know what you’re so pissed at me for, I don’t think you’re a loser. If I don’t seem sociable it’s just because I find it difficult to talk to people, especially in big groups. I’m going to look around. If you want to come, nobody’s stopping you.”

I walked out the door with Maurice and the two girls falling in behind me. Ceiling-staring guy got up and shuffled after us. Was this really my party? I had to ditch these losers as soon as possible.

[Author's note: I know chapters are short but I will be posting extra content over the weekend (longer chapters, more of them) when I 'll have more free time to do so.]

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