“Shouldn’t you be leaving by now?” my girlfriend’s concerned voice resharpened my eyes which had started glazing over after I got sucked into my game on my phone. I quickly checked the time, a small panic forming after realizing how close I was cutting it.
“Oh 10:23, I really didn’t notice it was already so late.” I said after checking the game one more time then shuffling over to the bathroom.
“Were you playing that game again?” she yelled from the bedroom.
“Uh, maybe?”? I said hesitantly, “I’m trying to get some achievements to unlock the traits I need. There’s only two left. You know, it’s real stupid how even after I payed for the game, I still need unlock this stuff!” I yelled back, toothpaste and water spraying onto the bathroom mirror.
“Yeah, you shouldn’t have anything to work towards when you get a game, Zekey poo.” I could see her playful eyes and taunting smile in the back of my mind. I smiled too, except it was much more goofy and covered with toothpaste. Brushing my teeth with one hand, I used my other hand to tease and shape the tight curls that had been matted and stuck to my head from sleep, as I often did when in a hurry.
After washing off my face, I ran back in the room, looking around frantically trying to find what to do next.
“Do you know what you’re gonna wear yet?” she said, as if hearing my thoughts.
I looked back at Lila, my beautiful girlfriend, and blew her a kiss before running over to my basket of clean clothes I had yet to fold.
“I was thinking of wearing this black and white sweater.” I said pulling it out and presenting it to her. She looked at it for a moment, her eyebrows furrowing and her bright blue eyes narrowing, which I had dubbed “The Concentration Face”.
“Hmmm, why don’t we go with the green flannel we talked about last night?” I sighed. Fashion bust. I thought about saying screw it and just putting it on before ultimately throwing it back in the pile and pulling out the flannel. She flashed a thumbs up, which I replied to with a thumbs down. I put it on anyway.
“See, you look so handsome!” she said rushing out of bed, and fixing my collar. “Super handsome.” her blue eyes stared into mine and I felt lost at sea. Her eyes had a habit of doing that. We still there for a moment, locked in our own world, before I leaned in to kiss her, her warm, soft lips taking away all my worry. She pulled away after a short while.
“You need to go, Mister.” she said before smiling and giving me a quick hug.
“I know, I know. Stop distracting me then.” I teased.
“You sure you don’t want me to take you?” she asked, squeezing harder.
I stroked her hair and kissed her forehead before pulling away. “Yes, you need to go get ready for work, I’ll be fine with an uber.” Her lips curled into a frown, which I gave a quick peck and then turned to finish changing.
“Call the uber now, you’ll probably have to wait a while.”
I nodded, struggling to put up my pants as I scrolled through my phone and ordered my uber. I had to wait five minutes. Not too bad, it’s usually worse.
As I waited for the uber, put my shoes on, and tried my best to not get too carried away while Lila got dressed for work, I went over my morning mantra again and again under my breath.
“You are a winner, you are successful, you are focused. You can do everything you put your mind to. You are a winner, you are successful, you are focused. You can do everything…”
“Hey, do you think you’re ready?”
“Yeah, this’ll go great!” I said with a smile. Lila frowned and pointed to my leg that I had subconsciously been bouncing, furiously.
“It’s okay to be nervous, you know honeybun.” she said, rubbing my face and neck. Her orange hair fell down her shoulders like coils of flame, cooled only by the blue frost of her eyes. I tried not to get lost again.
As if the universe could hear my thoughts, I felt a familiar buzz in my back pocket. The uber was finally here.
I did a mental checklist of everything I had to take with me. Phone, keys, headphones, wallet. Okay, I was ready.
“Well, off I go,” I said quietly.
“You’ll do amazing, babe. Believe in yourself!” Lila beamed. I gave her one last kiss before heading out the door.
My 15 minute uber ride was spent, almost in it’s entirety, dropping orcs and elves in an open field to watch them fight each other. The pixel figures rammed into each other, shining red whenever they got hurt, only to keel over and disappear once their healths reached zero. The victor, with seemingly no care for life or loss, would prance off unfazed, searching for their next endeavor. I did this a couple more times, until a notification popped up at the top of my screen. It read “Achievement Unlocked”. I imagined what Lila would think if she saw me now, nose deep in my phone, instead of mentally preparing myself for the interview. I shrugged. I would tell her I played on my way back.
As I neared closer and closer to where the interview would take place, my stomach got tighter and tighter. Maybe I should have taken it more seriously? What if I freeze up because I don’t know what to say? The knot in my stomach twisted and squeezed. Then I remembered Lila’s face and how she would be there for me when I got home. I shrugged again. Winging it was my specialty.
“Is here alright?” my uber driver asked me as we pulled up next to a row of buildings that reminded me of glass cubes.
“Yeah, here’s fine,” I said, hopping out the uber and scanning the area. The bitter cold that nipped at my cheeks contrasted the bright sunny sky that had not one cloud. Lila would call this a “nice day”. To me, it was just winter in Massachusetts.
Outside what I could only describe as a “corporate beach house”, there was a sign that read, “Therapy and Wellness, get your IV Drip Therapy Today!” I guess this was the place. I walked through the glass doors and was greeted by two women at a front desk. The one on the left smiled and waved at me, causing her cheeks to bunch up and shut her eyes completely. I nodded and smiled back.
“Hi, my name’s Ezekial, I’m here for an interview.” I said, only for the woman on the right to answer instead.
“Oh, right, an interview,” she said through emotionless lips and lifeless eyes. “They’re in the middle of an interview right now, but you can take a seat over there to wait if you’d like. There’s some water in that fridge over there as well.”
I walked over to some chairs where I found a mini fridge and pulled a tiny water bottle out. I sat down and noticed reggae being played softly from a speaker. I looked over at the women at the front desk, wondering which one of them would have possibly put on reggae.
Finally in the building, the impending interview began to feel more real. My stomach got tight again, so I did the only thing I knew to calm me down. Text Lila.
ME: I’m here now ❤
LILA: Oh that’s great babe, you’re early
ME: Yeah, the other interview is still going on, my competition !!
LILA: But you’re way better love you got this ❤
I smiled for a moment and my nerves calmed down a bit. While I wondered what good deeds I had done in a past life to deserve someone as wonderful as my girlfriend, a middle aged orange woman with bleach blonde hair in a pink zip up hoodie and leggings walked up to me.
“Hi, I’m Maddie. Are you here for the interview?” she said, with a beaming yellow smile. Her heavy makeup cracked a bit on the corner of her eyes, which was covered with heavy liner and clumpy mascara.
“Yes I am. I’m Ezekial,” I said standing up and shaking her hand.
“Wonderful! You can follow me, then,” she waved me over and we walked to a backroom closed off by a sliding door. While I expected a normal office looking space, what I actually found was a small storage looking room with a computer and three folding chairs facing each other.
I awkwardly sat in one of the chairs, looking back at Maddie as she stared at me smiling, not saying a word. I wasn’t sure what to say so I smiled back for a moment, thinking that would prompt her to begin speaking. After a few moments of more silence, my back and face started burning up. Was this a prank?
Suddenly, the sliding doors opened again and two men with black suits walked in. They looked stripped right out of a Men in Black movie, sunglases and all.
“Sorry to keep you waiting, we were just finishing up,” one said with a smile. He sat down in the remaining seat while the other man stood in front of the door, like some type of security. Security for who, I could only imagine.
The first man pulled out some papers, sifting through them with a lot of concentration, which only increased my anxiety. Finally, he pulled out the one he had been looking for and looked up at me.
“So it says here that you’re name is Ezekial Specter, is that correct?”
“Yes, sir, that’s my name,” I responded back.
“My name’s Mr. Tech, nice to meet you Ezekial,” he said, extending his hand out to me. I was apprehensive for a moment. The handshake made me feel like I was agreeing to participate in something sinister. Eventually, I received the handshake, which was much firmer than I had anticipated. Mr. Tech smiled again.
“Well then, let’s get started with this interview.”
The interview, despite it’s awkward start, went on rather smoothly. He began by asking me to describe myself, which I managed to do with as little rambling as I could muster. He asked me about my job history, education, some personal interests, and goals for working there. Normal interview stuff. Then it took a turn.
“So what do you like to do for fun?” Mr. Tech asked.
“Well, I do a lot of writing, I read a lot, hang out with my girlfriend, and I play some video games.” Mr. Tech began writing down my answer, seemingly very pleased.
“So when you say video games, are you playing them on a console or what?” Mr. Tech asked.
“I play a lot of pc games, but recently I’ve been having a lot of fun with this mobile game,” I said, excited just to have an opportunity to talk about my interests.
“Oh you mean God of Kings, right?” he said with a large smile, much larger than he had smiled the whole interview. My heart stopped. I thought back to me playing on my phone earlier this morning and on the uber ride here. It was God of Kings. I nodded back. I couldn’t quite find my words.
“Oh excellent, that worldbuilding simulator seems to really have a grip on people these days.” the smile never left his face. My blood had turned to ice and I was frozen in place, not being able to respond anymore. Mr. Tech just laughed and stood up.
“Oh don’t be scared, Ezekiel,” He said, putting his strong hand on my shoulder and giving it a tight squeeze. “Let me cut to the chase. I’m the Scouting Director from the gaming company that made God of Kings, and to be frank, we want to scout you, Ezekiel.”
My brain was foggy and on fire at the same time. Why would a gaming company want to scout me? I stared up at Mr. Tech, waiting for him to laugh again and tell me it was all a joke, and that Lila had put them up to it, but it never happened.
“I’m sorry but I think you guys have the wrong person,” I said finally. This answer seemed only to amuse him more. He sat back down in his chair, looking at the papers again.
“So you’re telling me you’re not LilaLover69? Nice name by the way,” he said, still looking through the papers. I smacked myself internally. I shouldn’t have let Lila pick my name for me.
“Yes, that is me,” I said reluctantly, “but I still think you’ve got the wrong person. How could I help a gaming company? I don’t know anything about making games.”
“Well that’s the thing. We wouldn’t have you making any games, you would be testing them. Since the inception of God of Kings two years ago, it has been my job to analyze player data, and by looking at many factors, I gather players to test the next phase in our game development,” he said casually.
“Have you guys ever thought to contact actual game testers, instead of acting like creepy CIA agents to normal people looking for jobs?” I was beginning to get hot again, but this time more out of anger than anxiety. This only caused Mr. Tech to laugh again, this time a full belly laugh that made him throw his head back and wipe a tear from his eye.
“Creepy CIA agent is a new one! But to answer your question, this is job is much bigger task than a mere game tester to handle. What we need isn’t someone who will just test the game. In fact, we aren’t looking for someone who will play the game either,” he exclaimed while getting up, sticking the papers he had in his hands on the wall.
“Six months ago, I came across one of the most exciting profiles I’d seen in the last two years. No, maybe in my entire career. It was a profile that showed a certain level of obsession, of attention to detail, and pure creativity that I’d never witnessed before. That profile belongs to you, Ezekiel Specter. The way you play sends me into a frenzy.” Mr. Tech suddenly stopped moving then shuddered. “Ah, it just gives me the chills.” he began putting the papers up, even more furiously than before.
“What we’re looking for at our company isn’t someone to test or play our games. We want someone who will live our game, someone who will delve deep into the world and society that we have created and you,” He said as he finished sticking the papers on the wall, turning around to face me once more, “are the the who can do that.”
Then, the papers did something unimaginable. They began to glow, as if they were a monitor screen, and the words “Join Our World” shined brightly. I was left dumbfounded and unable to utter a single word. Mr. Tech standing there, arms out and facing me with the screen shining behind him, made him look otherworldly.
“I’m sorry, sir, but what exactly am I going to be testing for all this to be necessary?” I said finally. Mr. Tech smiled.
“What an excellent question. I’m sure you’ve heard of virtual reality, right Ezekial? Virtual reality was promised to be an extension of real life and provide an experience that would allow us to escape our real world. Until now, it had been severely lacking at both. But over at Genesis Tech, we’ve finally had a breakthrough and gone even beyond what could be considered virtual reality. What we’ve stumbled upon is what we’ve dubbed Hybrid Reality. Consider it our own separate realm. Now you understand how we couldn’t have any old game tester trying our game.”
Hybrid Reality. Their own separate realm? It all sounded insane, but the look on his face made me believe he was telling the truth. He walked up to me, putting his hand on my shoulder.
“What I’m asking of you is to be a part of something that will go down as legend. This is an opportunity of a lifetime. Don’t let it pass you by.” he said calmly. He stared into my face, seemingly trying to search for an answer in my expression. It was no use, I was basically frozen. At last he sighed and turned back around.
“We’ll pay you $500,000.” he said without turning around.
“When do I start?” I said immediately. Any doubt in my heart washed away with the image of dollar bills floating around my head. Mr. Tech laughed.
“Well I guess everyone has their motivations,” he said, as the papers were stuffed into an envelope and he picked up the briefcase he had brought with him, “That’s all we had for today. I’m glad we could come to an agreement and understanding. We’ll keep in touch.”
“What about my contact information, don’t you need that?” I said nervously.
“No need,” he said with a wink and walked over to the door with the other man in the suit, “Oh, and sorry for jacking your interview.” he gestured towards Maddie, who I had forgotten was still there. She had not moved or said a word the entire interview, in fact, she hadn’t stopped smiling. Then it all clicked. I felt a sense of dread as I turned towards Mr. Tech and the other man to find that they had disappeared.
I sighed and was about to get up until Maddie moved for the first time since we had gone in the room.
“Ok, so tell me about yourself,” She said with a beaming smile.
You’ve got to be killing me, I thought to myself. Whatever spell or device they had used on her had wared off and she looked at me, expectantly.
“I’m sorry can you actually give me a moment?” I said while rushing out the door. I looked around and found no signs of either man. While wondering where they could have gone I felt a buzz in my pocket. I pulled it out, expecting to see a notification from Lila asking me how the interview was going. What I actually read froze my blood and made me lightheaded. What I read on the screen was: “God of Kings, Achievement Unlocked: Man for the Job”