Like all the other players who were still alive, Angela returned to her pod to rest. There was nothing else she could do. The only way home was unavailable.
What did that guy say? It turned someone inside-out. Angela gagged, trying not to imagine what that meant.
She could not go outside. There were monsters out there—if any of this was real—and even beyond the danger of the Bugs, Tithoria’s air was probably unbreathable for humans.
It was all crazy. None of it made sense. This had to be part of the experience—some kind of simulation, a prank, a stunt.
But then, where was Fluffinator? IG probably stuck a little line about taking the dog somewhere in that thick contract Angela signed. Still, she would definitely talk to a lawyer about this, once it was all over.
But for now, Angela wanted nothing more than to sleep. She was exhausted from crying and from the events of an unusually long day.
Had it only been one day? The sunlight from the window wasn’t real, and maybe IG manipulated all the clocks as well. She didn’t have any real way to tell what time it was, or how many hours had passed. Here, the company controlled everything. Even time.
Angela turned off the lights and climbed into the bed that wasn’t really her bed, even though it was the same mattress covered in identical sheets and blankets. She shut her eyes. If she could get to sleep, everything would be okay, she thought. The world would reset itself. Sleep fixed everything, healed all status ailments, restored HP and MP.
But she couldn’t sleep. She needed the sound of animal breathing, the warmth of a fat, furry little body lying on the bed beside her. But the dog was gone, dead probably. Still, she tried to force herself to hope that the company had only hidden the dog somewhere, and that Ms. Yue’s tears were just acting.
Maybe pills would help. She messaged Dr. Parikh, but he didn’t respond. He probably works nine to five, she thought, but another part of her thought, He’s cleaning up the bodies. He’s sewing people back together. He’s turning that one guy right-side out again.
They were in space. It didn’t make sense, but it did. The feeling of lightness from low gravity. The lack of exits. The loss of two players suddenly and with no warning. The hologram of Auriana.
It couldn’t be real.
But it had to be real.
But from within the Enrichment Center, with everything hidden behind a wall or a screen, nothing seemed quite real.
Angela knew that she couldn’t force herself to fall asleep, so she turned the lights on and searched for distractions among her possessions—rather, the possessions IG had provided her to make the set look real.
For once, Angela wished she’d collected a little less horror and a little more Jane Austen. Almost everything in her movie collection was about death and fear, including an entire shelf of late 80s/early 90s VHS cabin-in-the-woods movies about young people getting murdered by faceless maniacs. She closed her eyes and pointed at the shelf, and her finger landed on A Nightmare on Elm Street, and Angela thought of Tina, poor Tina, dragged to the ceiling and disemboweled by a monster no one could see.
Angela began yanking videos and games and books off the shelves and tossing them to the carpet. Were the old VHS tapes real, or were they copies, carefully crafted to look aged, covers artificially faded under a UV light? If she watched them, would she find static and wear in the same scenes where she and previous owners had rewound and re-watched over and over again?
The massive shelf where she kept her media collection stood against the wall that bordered on Dave-O’s pod. And on the other side of that wall…
She wondered how close that Thing had come. Had it started to burrow through? She dragged the now-empty shelf aside and checked the wall. No holes. No dents. Not on this side, anyway. Still, it didn’t make her feel any safer.
Angela stepped on a DVD case of My Bloody Valentine (the 1981 version, of course—not the forgettable 2009 remake) and heard a loud crack as the disk broke inside. She didn’t care. It was a thing, a replaceable thing, a meaningless thing that wasn’t hers, that some nameless unpaid intern had ordered off the internet and carefully placed upon the shelf that also wasn’t hers.
All around her were things: posters and Blu-rays and video games and consoles and a cardboard cutout of Edward Scissorhands and all the other things she’d always lovingly cultivated and shown to her friends and subscribers. This was the sum of her life—or a reasonable facsimile of it, anyway.
But it was just a pile of objects now. The most important thing in her room was the squeaky mushroom dog toy, and that was meaningless without a big-bellied Corgi to chase it.
She could not stand to be alone anymore. She wanted her dog. But the dog wasn’t here. So human contact would have to suffice.
Angela weighed her options. Rico? Too creepy. Maximus? Sweet Jesus no. Fredi? Maybe. Something about her grated on Angela. Terrence? He might misinterpret things. She liked him, but not like that. Dave-O? She absolutely would have jumped into bed with him, but he was…
Scout. That was the only one who made sense. She seemed nice—at the very least, she was Minnesota Nice enough not to turn anyone away, and Angela’s understanding of the Midwest was that its people always made casseroles in the event of a tragedy, so that would be a pretty good bonus on top of everything else.
She went out. The hall was well-lit and clean, but there was a visible dent on Rico’s entrance, as though someone had broken through it.
But she ignored it and went next door to Scout’s pod.
Before she pressed the doorbell, Angela took a moment to compose herself. She straightened her hair and rubbed her eyes. She was an ugly crier, she knew, all puffy redness and snot. Pretty waifs could sell their depression as poetic, a single jewel of a tear sliding down a hollow cheek. But Angela knew her fat girl sadness disgusted others and would garner no sympathy, so she buried it under sarcasm.
The door opened. Scout, dressed in an oversized flannel nightgown, stood in the entrance. Wordlessly, she wrapped her arms around her guest in a tight hug, and Angela began to bawl again.
Hive is a serial novel updated Thursdays. The rest can be found here.