An Audience Of Swans
Groggy and barely able to stand, Rebecca and Jack made their way out of their gaming pods.
“What time is it?” Jack said, rubbing his bloodshot eyes
“What day is it?” Rebecca replied
They looked at each other for a moment before breaking out into laughter.
“We are definitely playing this again; this game will ruin my goal to become a god for sure.” Rebecca said as she cracked her back.
Jack grasped Rebecca’s shoulder and stared intently into her eyes.
“But with this game, we could become gods much quicker. We will carve our way to the top and unlock the magic that lies within. Then start again, so we may become the mystic gods of this floating castle.”
“Divine is what we shall become.” Jack interrupted. “We shall rain down on the scrubs who dare oppose us, topping the leader boards we shall inspire fear and respect.”
“Can we just…”
“WE SHALL RAIN FIRE ON ALL WHO DO NOT BOW TO OUR OMNISCIENT POWERS.”
Rebecca stared at Jack as his breath started to slow back down to normal.
“Okay, I am done yelling.”
“I was going to say if you want to be a god of a virtual world, go for it, but I am going to be a god of a much bigger game called life.”
“Meh, I have played that. It is clearly pay to play.”
“Haha, okay. I am done with nerd talk; we have a ring that has finished decoding in our flat. A ring with valuable information and wealth attached to it.”
Rebecca started to walk away.
“But have fun with your little games.”
“Boo, you are no fun.”
Jack stepped to, catching up with Rebecca.
“Are you going to talk with Hemlock on the way out?” Jack asked.
“I mean, if he is there, but you never know, he might be asleep.”
Jack let off a little laugh. “Yea, because psychics need to sleep.”
“Like I said, you never know.”
Jack and Rebecca left the Grove, receiving parting pleasantries from the automated robot at the entrance.
“Thank you for playing. We hope you return soon.”
Walking into the lobby, they both stared at the large square back of Hemlock.
“Go on then, get going.” Hemlock grunted.
“I can stay to chat if you want.” Rebecca said cautiously.
“But you don’t want. It is ok; there will be other times.”
Rebecca and Jack walked past as they looked at the table covered with origami swans.
“Sorry, Hemlock, she is never good to talk to after a long gaming session anyway.” Jack said as he left the room, leaving Hemlock by himself.
“I know; she used to live with me once.” Hemlock said with sadness in his voice to his audience of swans.
“I know it is not my place, but don’t you think you should have talked to Hemlock?”
“I am going to say this as politely as I can, Jack.” Rebecca turned to Jack and stared into his eyes.
“Fair call. Let’s go home and haul in our well earnt money.”
The remainder of the journey was walked in silence until Jack touched on a topic that drew Rebecca in.
“So how fucking stupid was that guy with the lance in the cave of secrets?”
“Oh my god, that role-playing an asshole, he was such a wanker.”
“I know, right? I mean, being the keeper of the cave was only going to work if his level was above fucking zero.”
Rebecca put on a stupid voice to mock the other player.
“Halt adventurer, this is my cave. You must defeat me in combat before you can continue.”
Rebecca laughed. “What an asshole.”
“But seriously, Rebecca, we need to get back into that game at some point. It was so damn good.”
Sighing, Rebecca nodded her head. “Yea, we really do.”
The walk was once again filled with silence as they marched their way back to the flat. Slowly they started the climb up their building. A climb that began to speed up as they realized that they were mere floors away from their biggest discovery. They started into a full sprint, and Rebecca was left jumping anxiously as she waited for Jack.
“Hurry the hell up; you were in the army; you should be fitter than me.”
“I was a pilot and a sniper. Neither require high fitness.”
Jack reached the door, fumbling his keys. He unlocked it, and Rebecca pushed her way through, sprinting over to the computer.
“C’mon, c’mon, c’mon, come on, your beautiful piece of shit.”
The monitors turned on, and before them were the credentials of their victim, along with his bank balance.
“Looks like we have a withdrawal to make.” Rebecca said, grinning.
“So what do we take with us? What do we need in there?”
“It is a market; we need money. We have that now. Exactly ^700.”
Jack grinned. “So, is that a lot?”
“I have no idea; I did not look at the conversion rate when I was there last.”
“Okay, well, let’s go. I also want to check out the job boards could be some good money for a man like me.”
“And me! Jack ass, we both have skills to offer here.”
“But we are going to an underground organization; a gun or a pilot is probably more sought after than a linguist.”
Rebecca took her ring and put it on, tossing Jack his.
“Fine, we will see who gets a job first. Now let’s actually go. Time is a waste.”
Rebecca and Jack headed out down into the alleyway and entered the T.D.E. The same old man stood in their way with a gun pointed at their heads.
“Why did you come down here? This alley is a dead end?”
“Because dead ends are the greatest doors; you just have to know how to find them.”
The old man sat back down, allowing the two to pass.
Rebecca waved to the woman behind the counter, who gave a courteous head nod back. Jack pushed his thumb into the door, and a loud single-beat siren echoed. An audible groan came from the woman behind the counter.
“If the ring is not registered to you, you cannot enter the facility. Please come here so we can wipe it and set up your credentials.”
“So all that hacking and all we got to do was look at his information.?”
“Oh yea, I guess it was. I forgot about the bio-metric coding. Can’t beat that.”
“Please sit. We will take a photo, then please state your name and your title.”
A flash blinded Jack; he lifted his arm and let his eyes adjust.
“Um, Jack and C3500x.”
“Really? Your military tag as your title?”
“Shows people my background without any talking. That title will speak volumes.”
“That makes a lot of sense; plus, if anyone is half decent, they will be able to look you up and see your record.”
Jack let off a little chuckle. “That is not my full title; they can only look up the region I worked in, not me specifically. Letting someone look me up specifically would be a stupid idea.”
Jack received his ring, and excitedly, he accessed the door and stepped into the T.D.E main market.
“Hot damn, this is impressive. To think so much can be hidden from the vast majority of people.”
“Yea, well, don’t forget our bet, the first person to get a job wins.”
“What do we win again?”
Rebecca stood tall and placed her hands on her hips, and looked to the ceiling.
“Why you win bragging rights, the best thing to win besides actual money or things or deeds or blueprints or anything useful.”
“shall we go to the job board then?”
“Yea, it is just down here.”
Rebecca led Jack down through the market; all around them, they spied contraband of every kind. From foods and drugs all the way to weapons and animals. Jack started to look a little concerned the more he looked around.
“Everything here is a minor-level offense to own; where is the better stuff?”
“Further in, but you need to rank up to gain access to the deeper rooms. Come on, man, this is common knowledge.”
“Okay, but at least I did not waste three days gaining access to information that was useless to us.”
“Yea, I have to admit that one is my bad; I got excited. Forgot what I was doing.”
Jack went to respond, but his attention was taken as they reached the job board. His eyes started scanning them with haste. Rebecca was still distracted by the market behind her; by the time she turned around, she noticed Jack was already investigating a singular job in depth. She panicked and started to search herself, scanning the digital board for keywords to attract her focus. Jack seemed to be very invested in his job listing; meanwhile, Rebecca was still searching for something applicable to her.
“Bodyguard, escort, miner, pilot, tactician, demolition artist. Why are these such stupid-looking jobs? Oh, wait, here we go.”
Rebecca stumbled upon a new posting that caught her eye.
‘Linguist needed for assisting in setting up trade alliance.
Must speak English, Vor’gian, and Ephalite.
Needed immediately, contact below.
Payment – ^30′
Rebecca contacted the contract and confirmed the job; she turned to Jack as he turned to her, and they both cried out.
They both looked frustrated, then looked at the other’s accepted job.
“You got a job as a linguist for a trade meetup.”
“And you got hired as a bodyguard to the same meet. But for only ^16, I am paid nearly double you sucker.”
“Look again, you idiot.”
Rebecca looked a second time and realized that Jack was being paid ^160.
“I am the only bodyguard; I get good damn pay for my military background.”
“I am in the room, too; I will suffer the same amount of risk.”
Jack scoffed and loaded his weapons. “Yea, because the first threat in a room is an unarmed translator.”
“Point taken. But I can still get shot; I feel cheated.”
“Well, I have to head off to meet them now; I will catch you later.”
“Stupid fucking job, what a jip.”
Rebecca kicked her feet and started to head off to her meeting place. Following a GPS on her tablet. Following the path through the exotic market that surrounded her, her ears were filled with music and shouting as people tried to sell their wares. She smiled as she was bumped around by those in a bigger rush than her; keeping an eye on her pockets from wandering pickpockets, she eventually made her way to the meeting location. She knocked on the door, where a thin panel slid open to reveal two large brown eyes and a deep booming voice.
“What do you want?”
Rebecca looked at her tablet, reading off the key phrase. “Looking for work, the kind where a tongue can make two people happy.” Her face scrunched as she read it aloud. Not realizing what she was saying till she had said it.
“Alright, come in.”
The door panel slid closed again. A few clicks and clanks later, the door opened, revealing the owner the booming voice. His large form dwarfed the door that he held open. Rebecca entered cautiously, watching her back as she walked past the bodyguard at the door. At the end of the corridor, she reached a T-intersection. Before turning back, the same deep voice called out from behind her.
“Left; read the tablet for the rest of the directions.”
Rebecca looked down to her tablet and gave one last glance back to the guard before heading down the corridor. Following her directions, she navigated the maze to her job.
“If I die because of a fake job, I will actually be so fucking pissed. Up in heaven, oh, how did you die? Who me? Well, I went to do a job, then got kidnapped and murdered because the job was actually a fake. Funny right? God damn, that is the worst way to fucking go.”
Rebecca reached the end of her journey. Before she was a small door that she had to climb through. As she lifted her head, she realized she was in a bulletproof booth with a speaker. On either side of her was a table and a mic. Before her were two separate mics.
“Ok, simple enough, they talk. I translate into the opposite mic, easy.”
A loud clattering sounded from her left, and Jack appeared through the door; he held it for two businessmen that made their way through and sat at their table. Across from them came the other delegates. They sat at their table; the only thing separating each other was a thin sheet of bulletproof glass. Both sides had their own bodyguard, and they stared each other down, neither one of them willing to talk first.
Jack waited as long as he thought he needed to; he then pulled out his pistol and shot both of the delegates on his side. He walked across to the mic as Rebecca sat there shocked, getting ready to run. He clicked on the mic and spoke.
“She is with me.”
The other delegates looked at each other before sliding money through the trade portion of the middle glass. Then in unison, both Jack and the others pressed a button on the table. Digitally signing the contract that had been written up. Jack looked at Rebecca with a blank stare before walking out of the room. Rebecca sat shook, her tablet vibrating, notifying her that the money for her job had been paid through. She calmly looked at the others still in the room, gave a little salute before climbing back out into the labyrinthine halls, making her way back out to the main hall. Filled with rage, she sought out Jack. Winding through the shops, she made her way back to the job board at the higher point in the room. She used her vantage point to spy on Jack. He was exchanging information with those who he was supposed to be guarding his men from. She waited for the discussions to finish before calling him.
“What the fuck was that ass-hat?”
“I got offered better money to kill them, and on top of that, we got paid anyway. Double pay.”
“Did you not think that they would just do the same to you? Or even me?”
“We are safe; trust me, I know how to talk to these people. Now wait, there I am coming up to you.”
Jack hung up the phone and started his way through the crowd. He could feel Rebecca’s eyes burning a hole in the top of his head as he walked. He hastened his pace and quickly joined Rebecca by the job board.
“Look, I was going to tell you, but there was no time. I can’t exactly pull out my phone during a debriefing to a job. That is insanely suspicious.”
“I don’t give a shit about not informing me, but you risked a lot for a couple of bucks. We are not poor remember? We don’t need to scrounge for cash; we play things safe and acquire knowledge and prestige. That is the goal; remember, we can’t do what we want to do if we are dead.”
“Is this a bad time to mention I got us access to the second room in here? As in both of us for helping them out with their issue. Or should I hold onto that information till later?”
Rebecca looked at her tablet. “Well, your friends jipped you because I only have level one access still.”
Right as Rebecca finished her sentence, her tablet vibrated. A small animation saying congratulations popped up on her screen. Her tablet updated had, and she had access codes to get into the second room.
“I am grateful, but that does not mean that I am not mad. It was a stupid risk that happened to pay off. There was no certainty.”
“Well, actually, we had good certainty. The only reason they got me to do the killing was because they could not get one of their own to do the job. Even if they wanted to, they would not have managed to kill either of us. There was too much bulletproof glass everywhere.”
“Bring one more piece of logic to this argument, and let’s see what happens.”
“Oh, and another fail-safe in place is….”
Rebecca gave a swift kick to Jack’s groin, leaving him groaning on the floor.
“You had already won the argument; you were just showing off; you deserved that. Now give me my share of that cash.”
Jack laughed as he groaned on the ground; rolling around in pain, he handed over some money before going back to cradling his crotch. He watched as Rebecca stormed off out of the building before attempting to stand again. Groaning, he managed to get himself to a sitting position and leaned against the nearest wall.
“God damn, that woman is going to kill me one day.”
Jack leaned back and gazed up at the noticeboard. His eyes lit up, and he stood up and downloaded the job down to his tablet.
“But no way she kills me today. Hell, she might even apologize when she sees this.”
Jack quickly pocketed his tablet and headed out of the T.D.E., trying his best to catch back up to Rebecca.