The next few months passed too slowly and too quickly all at once.
It took a full six weeks for IG to call after Ms. Yue’s first visit. Then, after a follow-up consultation, it took another month for the next response. Every step of the process moved slowly as honey.
And through it all, Scout had to maintain an agonizing silence. She told no one-not her subscribers, not her friends, not her relatives (the few who still talked to her, anyway), not even her roommate. She hated keeping such wonderful news to herself, but these were IG’s rules, and she would do nothing to jeopardize her shot at LP fame.
And yet, despite her impatience, Scout found herself with too much to do and too little time in which to do it. She had to give notice to her employers; she had to endure medical exams; she had to fill out round after round of forms, waivers and questionnaires; she had to record extra LPs to run during her absence; she had to rehearse the cover story to tell her loved ones (“It’s an internship at a tech firm-I’m studying social media engagement-no it’s not paid by the hour but there’s a stipend”).
When at last the day came, Scout couldn’t shake the feeling she’d left something undone.
But it was time to go. She took a bus, fearing that her car would not survive a trip halfway across the country. An IG employee picked her up from the station and brought her to a hotel not far from the company’s headquarters.
After her long journey, Scout wanted nothing more than to stretch out, flop into bed and fall asleep. But she had another appointment that night. So she washed up, changed into a cocktail dress (white with cornflowers that matched her hair), put on a layer of BB cream and headed to the lobby to meet her driver.
“What do you do?” he asked her once they were out of the parking lot.
Scout suddenly felt a little guilty about what she did for a living. “Odd jobs. Temping. And a little promotional stuff for the company.”
“Must be nice,” he replied.
They chatted about the city: where to go, what to see and do. Scout knew she probably wouldn’t be able to get out much. She’d be busy with IG. Still, maybe she could visit Castro once or twice.
But the driver took her out of the center of San Francisco, out of the hills, away from the streetcars and the lights, out to the suburbs. The houses here were great sprawling things three stories high with three-car garages and asymmetrical facades and columns and flying buttresses and skylights, all huddled at the back ends of multi-acre lawns.
The car came to a property surrounded by a dark border of Gothic spires. Scout recognized it.
“It looks like the Black Gate of Mordor,” she said. “From Lord of the Rings.”
“I’m sure the homeowners’ association was real happy to see that go up,” the driver said.
The gates opened, and the car took the long driveway up the hill.
The building at the top stood (or rather slanted) in shocking contrast with the gate that guarded it. The house looked like a pile of ice crystals dumped in a heap by some careless giant. Spotlights trained on its sides made it sparkle in the moonless night.
“That’s Superman’s palace, isn’t it?” Scout said. She couldn’t quite remember what it was called and she didn’t want to use her phone’s dying battery to find out.
She checked her makeup and hair in a compact mirror as the car pulled up to the shining house.
The driver wasn’t supposed to get out of the car, apparently, so Scout headed to the front entrance alone. Above the door, there was a sign: “The House That Hive Built.”
A pretty young woman in business casual clothes and a headset opened the door to let Scout in and directed her through the entrance hall (a low industrial-style corridor Scout recognized vaguely from the Alien movies), then into a grand hall with a black and white checkered floor and cinderblock walls painted with pixelated Mario Brothers clouds and hills. The abrupt change in scenery made her blink.
There was already a small gathering of gamers and attendants. IG had told Scout she’d be working with other LPers but hadn’t told her who. Still, she recognized a few faces.
There was Crushinator, a chubby Korean-American girl who always wore winged eyeliner and black clothes. She usually played as a marine in her Hive videos. She also liked survival horror, though she never screamed during an LP (except one time during a particularly frustrating playthrough of Clock Tower II: The Struggle Within). Her real name, Scout learned, was Angela Park. She was ignoring another guest’s attempts to make conversation with her by playing fetch with her dog, a plump corgi she called Fluffinator.
The guy (he was one of the older members of the group, but it felt wrong somehow to call him a man-“guy” suited him better) trying to talk to Angela was probably the most well-known among them. His real name was Jeffrey Benesch, but he went by the screen name Maximus Meridius. In an attempt to look classy, he had donned an ill-fitting suit and a cheap pork pie hat, but he hadn’t groomed his beard, and judging by his odor and the shininess of his skin he hadn’t had a bath that morning.
Maximus had been doing LPs for years and had amassed over a million subscribers, but his career had taken a hit recently after he made some culturally-insensitive comments during a livestream of Wolfenstein 3D. He lost a sponsorship deal with Blue Potion soda and was even publicly denounced by one of the lead programmers of Monkey Island 2. Still, Maximus maintained a healthy income from ads and his Patreon, and evidently IG had forgiven his transgressions.
He was hovering just slightly too close to Angela, trying to chat her up about something or other. “I mean, 30 FPS? They think they can get away with a mere thirty frames per second?”
“Mm,” she said. She squatted to accept a squeaky toy mushroom from her dog. “Good girl. Go get it!” Then she tossed the toy at the wall.
“It’s retarded,” he continued. “I feel like I’m having a stroke whenever I play something at 30 FPS.”
“Mm,” Angela said again. Then, to Fluffinator, she said, “Go on. Give me the mushroom. Good girl!”
“And they want to charge twenty bucks for it. That’s like sixty-six cents per frame per second.”
“Uh-huh,” she said again. She picked up her dog. “I’m going to go talk to someone else now.”
Angela carried Fluffinator over to a man with short hair and a prosthetic leg. Scout recognized him: Space Marine (real name Terrence Johnson). She’d watched his LPs before. He didn’t have much of a screen presence, but he had a unique background: a former U.S. Marine, he’d lost his leg to an IED in Iraq. He was probably the oldest of the group-early 30s-so his reflexes weren’t quite as sharp, but he brought the strategies he’d learned in combat with him into the game, and he was a strong player.
Terrence knelt carefully on his artificial leg to pet the corgi. “She really likes you,” Angela said.
Fluffinator rolled onto its back, legs in the air. Terrence grinned. He mimed slicing the animal’s abdomen open with an ion blade, the finishing blow in certain boss fights in the Hive games. The dog’s six nipples were arranged very much like the little whorls in Drone armor that indicate weak points.
Then Terrence rubbed Fluffinator’s belly, to the animal’s delight. “You failed the quicktime event,” Angela said. “Drone’s gonna eat your brain now.”
The little cluster was joined by a college-aged kid wearing a fur hat with a red star on it. This was Comrade Ogilvy, a.k.a. Tankie Hank, a.k.a. Henry Wentworth. After Hive, his most popular LPs were of Tetris and the indie hit Papers, Please. He was also an outspoken advocate for open source coding, digital piracy, and communism.
Terrence frowned at the sight of the red star, but he didn’t say anything as Comrade Ogilvy squatted to scritch the corgi’s head and coo, “Good doggo.”
There was a girl Scout recognized by face but couldn’t name. She introduced herself as Fredi South, though her screen name was VicsXWedge. She said she loved Hive for its customizable player characters,which permitted female protagonists even as far back as 1986’s Hive 2. “We’re twins,” she said to Scout, gesturing at her own purplish hair and plastic-framed glasses.
And then there were a few LPers Scout didn’t know at all. One was Dave-O–David Oswalt–a man who seemed entirely too normal to be a professional gamer. He had muscle tone and a firm fist bump and he said he worked for his father’s company.
The last member of the group stood quietly by himself, looking down at his shoes. He was bony with dark, greasy hair. Scout introduced herself to him. His real name was John Rico, but he LPed under the moniker GenericSilentProtagonist. He said very little besides, “Hi.”
“So,” Ms. Yue said. “The gang’s all here.”
“Very diverse group,” Fredi said.
“Feel like we’re gonna summon Captain Planet,” Terrence said.
“If I get stuck with heart, I will leave,” Angela said.
Ms. Yue laughed. “You were all selected because IG believes that each of you has something unique to offer. Plus, you’re all fantastic Hivers. Now that you’ve had a chance to get to know each other, we’d like you to meet someone very special.”
The eight exchanged grins-all except for Rico, who directed his smile at the checkered floor.
It was time.