Your name is AMIE LAURENT, you’re 18 YEARS OLD, and you have no idea what’s going on.
Your MOM is missing.
Parts of your HOUSE are on FIRE.
There are METEORS LAYING WASTE TO CREATION outside.
You are SPRINTING UP STAIRCASES that your house didn’t have yesterday. There are A LOT OF STAIRS now, and by god you’re angry at your friend HUGH TANNER for dragging you into this SBURB game.
You hope you can get to the ALCHEMITER before THE CLOCK HITS ZERO.
—rewind reset: 6 hours ago—
—gregariousAmbassador [GA] began pestering aspiringCarver [AC]—
AC: why’d you send me 2 game things?
GA: I told you a week ago: we’re starting the game today.
GA: Amie, you agreed to play.
GA: That means you need two discs.
GA: Because you’re going to be someone’s server player, and then you’re going to be a client.
GA: Two roles, two discs.
AC: ok ok fine
AC: don’t get why you want me to play it
AC: i don’t play video games
GA: You want to play THIS game, trust me.
GA: It’ll be fun!
AC: so when do i do that server thing?
GA: I planned it all out and you’re going to be Liam’s, so not for a while.
GA: And I’m going to be your server so I’ll help you out both times.
AC: why can’t we just all go in together?
GA: It’s just a game thing. Everyone’s going to be too busy doing one thing to do the other.
AC: agh fine ok!
AC: i get it already!
AC: i’ll play your weird game
AC: you’re lucky i don’t hate you or anything. :p
GA: Ha ha!
GA: Oh, you’re a riot, Miss Laurent.
GA: Okay, I’ve got to go. Vita’s all set up as my server.
GA: I’ll get back to you later when Liam starts.
GA: See you on the other side! ;D
—gregariousAmbassador [GA] ceased pestering aspiringCarver [AC]—
Amie sighed and sat back. Though she turned her chair and pushed off and away from her computer desk, she did not scoot close to her drafting table. She leaned back and stared at the envelopes fastened to the table’s top corner. The angled wood promised the envelopes would be visible with but a glance toward the sketches and works-in-progress scattered thereupon.
She drew her skinny, shorts-covered legs up and held them to her chest as she stared. The envelopes had arrived seven days prior with a note from Hugh, and he had come online to pester her almost the moment she returned from fetching the mail. He had laid out his plans in sentences blinking up so quickly in the Pesterlog she would have sworn he’d written them in advance and simply copy-pasted it all.
It was his enthusiasm in pitching the game a month ago that made her agree then, and it was his obvious glee that made her agree now. It did not, however, make her feel the same level of joy that pervaded Hugh’s swift type. She simply looked at the envelopes and tried to not be distracted by their presence.
There were only two reasons Amie sat there in her bedroom with her eyes on the discs. The first was that her computer was set there, with Pesterchum at the ready. The other was that she had been banned from her basement and the secondary studio there housed. Bandaging, bright and wide, was wrapped around her right arm and covered the stitches beneath. She tried to not itch at them and settled for gentle rubbing.
It was a poorly aimed strike with her hammer that left her sitting there. The granite had broken strangely, and her chisel had skipped backward as she stumbled forth. Flesh and metal met and parted amicably enough, with a gush of red to see them each off. Mom had been horrified to tears and shouting when she came up, and lay down the commandment: she could not carve alone.
That weekend, like many others, saw Mom leaving for two-day-long shopping escapades. Amie could not recall joining her on the outings, at first too young and then too concerned with whatever project she was wrapped up in to want to go. Thus, unattended as she was, locked as the door downstairs was, she sat in her room and wanted only to go back to her unfinished carvings.
The computer chirped at her. She straightened, putting her feet to the floor, and another two chirps rang out as she wheeled back to her desk.
—anlaceAgent [AA] began trolling aspiringCarver [AC]—
AA: Tomorrow’s the day.
AA: Are you prepared?
Amie stared, eyes narrowing, before she brought her hands to the keyboard.
AC: i’m sorry
AC: i don’t know who you are
AA: Of course you don’t, you fuck-wit.
AC: excuse me?!
AA: It’s a very simple fucking question.
AA: Answer me.
AA: Are you prepared?
AC: i don’t know what you’re talking about and i hate swearing!!
AA: Is your shitty whining meant to have a point?
AC: stop swearing!!
AA: Fuck you.
AA: And fuck no.
AA: Answer me.
AC: what are you talking about?!
AC: what am i supposed to be prepared for?!
AA: All right.
AA: If you’re such a colossal fucking idiot, I’ll spell it out for you.
AA: And you’ll answer me.
AA: Tomorrow is the day you die.
AA: Are you prepared for that, fuck-wit?
There was nothing more she wanted to do than to block the handle. Her fingers trembled with the urge for it, for the desire to snatch up her mouse and click out all the commands necessary. Her hands remained hovering over the keyboard. Slowly, her fingertips came down to the keys.
AC: i don’t know who you are
AC: and i don’t care
AC: you’re some dumb troll
AC: even the computer says you are
AC: so i want you to go away
AC: i’m not going to die tomorrow
AC: you’re just being a jerk
AA: So fucking proper, aren’t you.
AA: You can’t even call me ‘bitch’ or ‘bastard’?
AA: It’s all right, you know.
AA: I’m used to it.
AC: i seriously don’t care what you’re used to
AC: i want you to leave me alone
AC: i’m busy
AA: Of course.
AA: The end of the world is pretty big fucking deal, after all.
AA: No, no.
AA: I understand.
AA: I’ll leave you alone.
AA: For now.
AA: Enjoy yourself, fuck-wit.
AA: Try not to die too fucking soon.
—anlaceAgent [AA] ceased trolling aspiringCarver [AC]—
“Oh my god,” she muttered. She turned to glare at her mouse, made to reach her hand out to it, and stopped. Teeth grit, her hand settled on the pad beside it. She closed her fingers tightly enough that it made her stitches sting. “You stupid, stupid—whoever, stupid troll.” For a moment, she flicked her thumb against the side of the mouse and watched the cursor jump across the screen. The anlaceAgent handle, now thrust into her chumroll, had gone gray down to the small ‘rancorous’ face beside it. Every handle was gray but one, and so she clicked open a new window to tirelessGuardian.
—aspiringCarver [AC] began pestering tirelessGuardian [TG]—
AC: hey vita?
TG: oh hey!
TG: hiiii amie!
AC: i know you’re supposed to be helping hugh
AC: but are you free right now?
TG: yeah, totally.
TG: he’s just having me mess around with a few things. I can do other stuff at the same time.
TG: so I’m just makin’ up some new flyers for school.
TG: it’s my newest project:
TG: protecting cats from the mean stuff people do for internet videos!
TG: but I can always make time for my best girl friend.
TG: what’s up?
AC: i just got trolled by some weirdo
AC: they said i was gonna die tomorrow
AC: and that the world’s gonna end
TG: that’s weird.
TG: and totally stupid!
TG: the world’s not going to end, silly!
TG: they’re just trying to mess with you.
TG: c’mon, don’t worry.
TG: we’re going to have fun playing a game this weekend!
TG: that’s all you need to think about, ok?
AC: but this waiting to go in after everyone is dumb
AC: and why the heck did hugh decide we should do all this stuff so late at night?
AC: isn’t it like midnight for him right now?
TG: it’s nine for me...
TG: what time is it at your house?
AC: 10 at night
TG: oh, right.
TG: he said something about wanting to start everything on a new day.
TG: new time or something.
AC: hugh’s kinda weird
TG: but at least he’s a nice guy. :)
AC: i know
AC: i just wish i could go carve while i wait
TG: did your mom really lock the door when she went out?
TG: aw, I’m sorry sweetie.
TG: but she’s not going to be gone too long!
TG: cheer up!
TG: she’ll be back and you’ll be able to carve when she does!
TG: you should draw until she gets back.
AC: i guess
AC: actually yeah
AC: that troll made me angry
AC: i wanna do something now
AC: thanks vita
AC: you always make me feel better
TG: no problem, sweetie!
TG: you get drawing!
TG: I want to see what you come up with!
—aspiringCarver [AC] ceased pestering tirelessGuardian [TG]—
It wasn’t much, but a smile of sorts had come back to Amie’s face. With one more tap of her thumb to the mouse, she pushed away from her desk and spun about as she went. She stopped directly in front of the drafting table, and she leaned up to take a blue pencil in hand. Every emotion fed into her hands, and anger was always beautifully potent. She took a few pages in hand from the pile on the floor. Later, she would probably need more, but later was later, now was now, and a great swath was invading her, down to the heated tips of her fingers.
Amie had been drawing for years, and working until she put her head on the desk for what she always promised would be a brief moment of closing her eyes just as long. It was the chirping of her computer, hurried and harried and furious furious furious, that made her lift her groggy head any faster than she usually did. The enormous bang outside and the rumble under her feet made her wake up entirely. Wheeling back to her desk, rubbing her eyes, she looked at the window that had popped open at the beck and call of adeptTraducer.
—adeptTraducer [AT] began pestering aspiringCarver [AC]—
AT: hey get online already
AT: youre online i know you are
AT: your handles all bright and everything
AT: come on reply already!
AT: Amie Laurent
AT: Amie Goddamn Laurent
AT: Amie where the hell are you?!
AT: Jesus Christ get to your computer!
AT: FUCKING CHRIST LAURENT NOW!
AT: COME ON COME ON!
AT: WHERE THE FUCK ARE YOU?!
AC: oh my god liam!
AC: i told you how much i hate swearing!
AT: OKAY I REALLY DON’T GIVE A DAMN HERE!
AT: GET SBURB INSTALLED RIGHT THE HELL NOW!
AC: liam calm down
AC: it’s just a game ok?
AT: OH IT IS NOT “JUST” ANY FUCKING GAME!
AT: YOU GET THE THING INSTALLED AND BE MY SERVER!
AC: ok ok ok!!
AC: gimme a second!
AT: JESUS HURRY THE HELL UP!
She slid out of her chair and went back to the drafting table, grabbing both discs. She shuffled them back and forth, blinking against the grit in her eyes to see the labels written in Hugh’s tiny, untidy scribbling. Both she brought back, but she tossed the client disc down when she sat in favor of shoving the server disc into her computer.
AC: ok i have the discs
AC: hang on a second
AT: HOLY SHIT FINALLY!
AT: JUST GET HUGH TALKING TO YOU AND GET ME IN ALREADY!
The epicycloids, warping and weaving together in a cascade of rainbows, would have transfixed her. They nearly did, were it not for the constant noise from Pesterchum slapping at her ears. She clicked away from the installation window and back to the chat client. Hugh’s handle was bright, his mood set to chummy, and she opened one more window.
—aspiringCarver [AC] began pestering gregariousAmbassador [GA]—
AC: hugh you’re there right?
GA: Yep, right here smacking some imps apart!
AC: no forget it!
AC: don’t explain i don’t care right now!
AC: liam’s screaming and swearing at me to get him into the game and i don’t know what his problem is!
GA: Oh, he’s probably got a lot of meteors coming his way.
GA: I think they start increasing exponentially the more players you get in the chain, but I’ve been too busy fighting imps and stuff to try to do math.
AC: oh my god
AC: what are you talking about?!
GA: It’s okay, it’s okay!
Another bang and rumble, louder and fiercer than before, made her jump and nearly fall from her chair at the same time.
AC: oh my god hugh!
AC: something’s happening at my house!
GA: Calm down!
GA: It’s just the meteors!
AC: how the heck am i supposed to calm down if there are meteors hitting my house?!
GA: They’re not going to hit your house yet.
GA: They’re probably just hitting other places near your house.
GA: Just concentrate on getting Liam in and I’ll get you in right after him!
AC: hugh what’s with this game?!
AC: what’s going on?!
GA: Amie, I mean it! You need to calm down!
GA: Breathe, okay? Deep breath.
AC: hugh shut up and tell me what’s going on!
GA: Not right now! We’ll get you in and then I’ll explain!
GA: Right now we need to get you and Liam in before the meteors hit!
GA: Is the program installed yet?
A flash of red from her bedroom window made her look away from the screen entirely. The flash turned to flickering, and she rushed over. The glass was warm to the touch, nearly hot, because the houses in the neighborhood were ablaze in the dead gray light of predawn. She stared, eyes painfully wide, and felt her empty stomach seize. Stumbling backward, nearly falling over her heels, she ran back to the computer. Kicking aside her chair made sense, and so she stood and bent over the keyboard to look at the screen. The loading bar had disappeared, leaving behind a window showing a young man clad in black slapping at his keyboard. Between the spurts of slapping, though, he turned about, flailed his arms, and looked up directly to the point Amie stared at on the screen. The computer chirped again.
GA: Is it ready?
AC: am i seeing liam?!
GA: Yeah, that’s him!
GA: Okay, you need to deploy all four items from the paraphernalia registry.
GA: Start with the cruxtruder and get the dowel out of there.
GA: He might need help getting the top off, so just drop something heavy on it if he does.
AC: no forget it
AC: later later later
AC: i just
AC: do i seriously use this cursor thing?
AC: i can mess with him and all his stuff?
GA: Yes, but there’s a lot of meteors going right now. You need to start getting him in.
AC: ok hang on
AC: ok liam it’s ready to go
AC: i’m gonna drop all the things in
AC: in your living room ok?
AT: fine just get moving!
She clicked away from the chat windows, missing at least once before returning to the Sburb window proper. Despite Hugh’s insistence, her breathing was starting to stutter; her shoulders shook and her hands skittered back and forth. The cursor jumped over every icon too quickly for her to read the titles. Pesterchum continued to sound off, but she could not set her mouse on either of the windows to read the messages. The chirping was drowned out by three more bangs outside, and she dropped to her knees to keep from falling with the shocks. She put her hands on her head, trying and failing utterly to keep her breathing under control.
Her chest halted in its heaving. Her throat closed entirely. She stared at the floor, and her heart began to slow. At the next quake, she did not fall over. Her hands rose from her head and took hold of the edge of the desk. She pulled herself up, brought the chair beneath her, and sat before the keyboard. Her throat gradually opened, and she put her hands down.
Amie watched as she deployed four items in quick succession: a cruxtruder, an alchemiter, a totem lathe, and a pre-punched captchalogue card. Liam was paid only enough attention to ensure he wasn’t crushed beneath the machines. She shifted to sit leisurely, hands folded in her lap and ankles crossed as she observed. Liam’s continued slapping at his keyboard was timed to the chimes from Pesterchum, but she did not move to respond. After a time, he abandoned the keyboard with a wave of his arms, middle fingers outstretched, and pulled a chain-ended sickle out of thin air.
The sylladex of another person was endlessly fascinating, in Amie’s opinion. The multitude of fetch modi and all the ways they forced one to extract the captchalogued items made her sit and mull idly for minutes on end. Though she had more than enough experience with her sketch-fetch to get any item on the first try, there had been a time when she had been unable to recall a simple picture book.
The strife deck and its specibi, though, were ubiquitous and unchanging no matter the person or fetching preference. Just as Liam could draw his chain-sickle from the specibus and simply have it in his hands, she was able to summon up a hammer and chisel. Rather, would be able to, had Mom not won it in a verbal strife before leaving and locked it away in the basement. Before, she had found the deck baffling, as uninterested in strife as was possible. Watching Liam slice apart the top of the cruxtruder, she thought she found at least some point in the deck’s existence.
A sphere of light, flickering spastically between white, black, and gold, emerged from the machine and hovered before Liam. With each flash, the epicycloids warped into the shapes that had blurred by during Sburb’s installation, and both client and server stared at it. The moment passed when he shook himself and reached to spin the wheel attached to the tube. A crystalline cylinder, colored the same gold as the intermittent flashes in the sphere, emerged from the tube with such suddenness that it jumped into the air. Though Liam caught it easily, he did not move. He returned his gaze to the light, and watched it follow him as he returned to the computer.
No chimes came to her for a time, and she looked from the corner of her eye toward the window. The fires beyond still raged, and she thought the room was warmer. She wanted to get up and run, but she neither knew where to go nor was able to move an inch. Her breathing remained steady, and her heartbeat was calm for it. All that was afforded to her was thought and sight, and so she looked back to the computer. Liam had left his living room. With remarkable calmness, he returned soon with something hidden in his hands. He looked up to where she watched, squinting as though it would do him any good.
So abruptly she could not follow, he flung the object in his hands into the light. It vanished, and so too did everything else in the room when the light enveloped everything in gold. It faded quickly, and the epicycloids were gone. In their place hovered a man wrapped top to bottom in the most stereotypical ninja outfit Amie had ever seen. With the assortment of weapons strapped to him, it might have been impressive, had the ninja not been bright gold and missing his legs. Nothing stopped her from laughing, and so she did. The smug grin on Liam’s face and the high five he gave the floating ninja made her nearly fall from her chair.
The masculine moment over, he scooped up the cylinder and card and strode to the totem lathe. With no hesitation in him, creating a carved totem and bringing it to the alchemiter took less than a minute ticking by on the cruxtruder’s counting-down clock. As the alchemiter scanned the totem, he lifted the sickle high. In one last flash of gold, a human shape, feminine in form, appeared on the alchemiter, standing with its arms spread and hands open. Liam’s sickle stopped centimeters shy of the shape’s face. He twitched the blade closer, but withdrew and let his arms drop to his sides. Eyes narrowing, he circled the thing.
Nothing changed. The cruxite woman remained in her posture of supplication and peace. Time ticked on. Liam did not react to the crashing that shook his home or to the cruxtruder’s clock. He stared and stared, circled and circled. Amie sat forward slowly. What she understood then was that the meteors were still falling, and Liam was spending his time staring at something with no face. She reached out her hands, but he moved to hold his sickle to the cruxite’s throat. She took back her hands, but he withdrew in time with her. She reached again; he put the sickle’s tip to the woman’s chest, over her heart.
Amie kept her hands on the keys, and Liam stood frozen. She could not see his face. Her breathing was calm, but control of it was slowly returning to her. The clock reached one minute. She moved.
AC: liam if you’re gonna do something do it already!!
He blinked at what she could only assume was his computer sounding off. He wrenched his hand back, lifted the sickle high, and swung it down at the cruxite’s neck. Head parted from body, and the light that filled the program’s window was dazzling. She closed her eyes against it, and did not open them again until she heard renewed chiming.
GA: Amie, are you still there?
GA: Liam said you got him in!
GA: C’mon, reply!
GA: Hey, there you are!
GA: All right, go ahead and install your client disc.
GA: I’ve got my server program ready to connect.
AC: hugh what’s going on?
AC: i have no idea what i just was doing
AC: it was like i wasn’t even doing anything at all
AC: i was just watching my hands do stuff
AC: and i was having a panic attack and then not having one because i started breathing normally again
GA: Amie, I DID tell you to breathe.
AC: it was like
AC: something MADE me do it
AC: because then it made me do all the stuff to get liam in the game
AC: what does that even mean?
AC: you keep saying get us into the game
AC: where are we supposed to be going?
GA: It’ll be a lot easier to get you in and explain then.
GA: Safer too, since you said you’ve got meteors coming down on you.
GA: So install your client program and connect with me. I’ll get you started really well.
GA: Hey, I promise it’ll be okay.
GA: Don’t worry. ;)
Amie did not know if she believed him. She drew her fingers away from the keyboard, putting her hands on her knees. She looked toward the remaining envelope slowly and stared at the bright green broken house logo printed upon it. There was nothing holding her where she sat, but there was nothing pushing her to pick up the envelope. The sound of meteors crashing down outside was steadfastly ignored.
Once more, a series of chirps rang out from her computer. A long while passed after the last chime before she looked up.
—anlaceAgent [AA] began trolling aspiringCarver [AC]—
AA: I didn’t think you’d give up so fucking quickly.
AA: Is this really where you’re going to give up on your shitty little life?
AA: What a damnably pathetic creature you are.
AA: What are you going to do now?
AA: Advance or abscond?
AA: Make your fucking choice.
AA: I want to see what happens next.
—anlaceAgent [AA] ceased trolling aspiringCarver [AC]—
She took the client envelope in hand.
Be the Heir of Time