With breakfast and our ‘private reward ceremony’ behind us, Roxi and I had been left to our own devices.
I really wanted to explore the valley and city, but my strained leg muscles vetoed that with a painful twinge and Roxi reminded me that we’d have more than enough time to see everything after we’d recovered. Today was now belatedly designated a lazy rest day.
Lounging around the sitting room’s sofas we quietly passed the time, while every so often maids popped in to check on our needs and refresh our refreshments. We’d both gained a couple levels from the experience that came silently with our rewards and taking the chance we discussed how we would be allocating points and bounced ideas back and forth for new skills.
That probably lasted maybe three quarters of an hour, who’s counting and we found ourselves looking for new ways to stave off boredom.
It's not like having a rest day was a bad idea, it was a nice change of pace and we both needed it. So Roxi was probably from somewhere that still had a fully operational internet and easy access to entertainment, so the lack there of was probably wasn’t helping her boredom.
As for me?
Well in between surviving, scavenging and fixing junk for a living and trying to keep myself fed with a roof over my head, I never really had a lot of free time and when I did find myself with a surplus of time, I usually spent it getting ahead or tomorrow’s tasks or finding myself a mindless task that kept my hands occupied.
Luckily our sitting room was furnished with a small shelf of books. I hadn’t noticed it there earlier, but considering our morning I might have missed it. Roxi seemed a bit surprised when I pointed it out.
It wasn’t much really, just a few novels, a book on the history of the Island of Greater Parcosia, a bestiary and a book titled ‘Of Powers and Gods’.
Roxi’d been tapping away at an invisible keyboard in her UI and having finished sending off a few messages, she joined me in examining our stock of reading material.
I fully expected Roxi to pick out one of the non-fiction books on the game’s setting, after seeing her enthusiasm each time we’d got a chance to hear it in person, but surprisingly she picked one of the novels. After grabbing a pile of the non-fiction books to take with me to the sofa, I discreetly glanced at the novel’s cover: ‘Lilies in a Snowy Forest’.
Sitting back down I opened my first book to read. A few chapters in I found myself getting distracted, peeking over the top of my book at Roxi. Whereas earlier she’d been lounging on the sofa with the same energy as a lioness at rest, but now it felt like I was watching something more private or intimate.
She was nestled in one corner of her sofa, with her legs tucked up under her and her torso was slightly twisted towards the lounge’s backrest and away from me. Holding the book up at eye level, her face was almost hidden behind it with her elbows propped up on a pile of hoarded cushions in her lap.
I could just be the lighting, but where I was sitting the corner of her cheek looked slightly pink like she was blushing. Sneaking more peeks, I watched with interest as I spotted the slight twinge of a smile, the subtle tremor of a suppressed laugh and caught the sound of held breath being released.
As if reacting to an alarm or signal, Roxi marked her page with a ribbon and carefully placing the book down, she began moving her hands and fingers through the air like she was manipulating a toolbar.
Sighing, she made a sweeping gesture I interpreted as closing her UI. “I thought I’d have another day, but I need to log out tonight… Dammit, I won’t be able to log on for another six days,” she bemoaned.
Six days, what was today? Checking my date in my UI, I found it was a saturday. So she was expecting to have the rest of the weekend before she had to log out. Log out for what? Five weekdays suggested schooling or a job. I guess that depends on where she lives, the world outside America sounded amazing. Thanks to all the technology like AI and the FTLN, most work was automated and there weren’t many jobs. Not that that mattered, apparently in some places they didn’t have to work and the government just provided homes, food and education.
I was slightly jealous, but more than that I felt disappointed. Not having concrete plans of my own, I hadn’t considered that Roxi might need to log out.
Realising I had gone silent too long, I fixed my face into a smile for her. "Yeah I better logout too. Y’know make sure my shop hasn't been robbed while I was in here,” I replied in an overly cheery voice, as I fought my feeling down to prevent making her feel guilty.
Going from moping to excited in seconds, she enthusiastically lent forward and exclaimed, "You own a shop! No wonder you are so good at business! That's really cool! What sort of shop?"
Shit! Fuck, Jamie you can’t let yourself break cover. Forget Jamie, I’m Aisling and I’m not in the American Republic.
"It's uh... It's nothing that impressive,” I stammered as I constructed a safe response, “it's a repair shop, mostly umm retro tech but also U--- Also normal tech. I do sell some second hand stuff as well."
"Wow! That's amazing!” she gushed. She was almost shaking with excitement and her eyes were wide with interest. Her mouth opened again like she was about to ask something else. but then with a slight frown it closed and pulled back as she reined herself in. “Wait, I hope I'm not prying too much, but how old are you?" she asked cautiously, like she was worried she was going too far.
"I'm..." I mumbled, my voice growing quieter until it was inaudible. Placing her hand on mine, Roxi smiled encouragingly and went to speak again, probably to tell me I didn’t have to say it. Crap, don’t chicken out Ja- Aisling! “Twe— Twenty one,” I loudly squeaked, as if I was revealing some sort of secret.
"Oh wow!” she exclaimed, some of her earlier excitement returning along with what I took to be an impressed tone. “I just turned twenty two like a month or two ago, we're almost the same age! I'm still in uni though, you're pretty amazing you know doing all that our age. Where'd you learn it all?"
“My uh, aunt helped me get an apprenticeship, I lied, doing my best to think on my feet. “I did all my learning and uh, coursework while I worked and eventually I was able to go on my own. My shop isn’t anything special, it's not in the best area and umm you could have called it an abandoned wreck before I took it over.”
Roxi of course had a few more questions, but thankfully I managed to evade and deflect them without being too obvious. Changing the topic, we made plans for exploring the city and grabbing supplies after we next logged back in.
The maids had been almost too helpful answering our questions on where various types of stores were and the locations of must see landmarks and places in the city and valley. They seemed pretty insistent we visited several ‘breathtaking’ vistas, the fountain of the Seafoam Wanderer, and an outdoor restaurant on a terrace in the noble quarter which was amazing when the stars were out.
Time was growing short when we finally found El to say our farewells, she’d been in the library when we reached her, researching something or rather to do with her next mission. Once again in human form, this time she looked like a tall lithe blonde woman. When we’d asked her why she replied, “why not,” and asked us to call her Elle and that she was a she at this time.
Unlike us, it turns out she wasn’t planning to log out anytime soon, but after we thanked her for the rescue back in Fort Brightspring, she pulled us into a quick hug and asked to exchange friend details.
We’d been worried about disappearing on the Duchess for six days, but Elle reassured us that it would be fine and she would pass on our farewells and plans to the Duchess. “Otherwise, given how busy she is right now, you might be stuck waiting a few days to log out,” she teased.
Finally we were back in our sitting room and ready to go our separate ways. As the time to log out grew closer, Roxi looked increasingly both rushed and worried. Wrapping me in a crushing hug she whispered for me to message her through the game if I needed anything or wanted to talk while we were out of the game.
Watching her fade out of existence, I felt a hollow feeling rise up in me and I had to resist the urge to try and message her to come back, leaving me feeling confused.
I was normally a perfectly happy solitary person, I mean I’d gotten by on my own for much of the last six years.
I blame the game and my roleplay, it had been so easy to fall into the character of Aisling Mistmirror and become someone else. I don’t think I’ve had this much fun in years and I’d, through Aisling, experienced so many new things.
Then there was Roxi. She was cool, awesome, a totally role model and really fun to be around, we’d gelled so well. After five days with her, I felt almost incomplete without her by my side.
It was hard to bring myself to log out and leave behind all this fun, this amazing game and return to my real life for almost a week. Not to mention I wasn’t looking forward to waking up to the smell and grime of five days sweat and oil. Not to mention having to take care of a week's worth of unwanted hairs.
Flicking up my UI, my fingers hesitantly danced across the menus as I selected my way to the log out to home button. Just press it quick like ripping off a bandaid. Here goes nothing!
I pressed the button and the world around me flickered and disappeared into a sea of black. Seconds later shining white command text appeared, floating in the void like the ghost of blue screen’s past.
>> DMLuxpod7.DreamOS-VR >>
>> LOGOUT ERROR >>
> DREAMOS.HOME NOT RESPONDING…
What? Did I do something wrong? Was it a bug? A noxious cocktail of emotions rose up in me as I mentally sorted through what I remembered of the waterlogged user manuals and specs I’d read online. Panic, anxiety and fear fueled and fed into each other like the meltdown of a fission reactor pushed beyond its limits, almost masking an inexplicable sense of relief.
“Log out, deactivate!” I called out, finally remembering the voice command for a hard log out to reality, skipping the pod home space.
>> DMLuxpod7.DreamOS-VR >>
>> LOGOUT ERROR >>
> ERROR: NULL
> BEGINNING DIAG...
> FTLN CONNECTION… ACTIVE
> ACTIVE POWER FEED… NULL
> POD OCCUPANT… NULL
>> DIAG NOT RESPONDING >>
>> DIAG NOT RESPONDING >>
>> DIAG NOT RESPONDING >>
> COMMAND OVERRIDE: CONSTRUCT: [NOT FOUND].
>> FORCE END PROCESS: DIAG.
>> FORCE END PROCESS: LOG OUT.
> SET PLAYER STATUS: DEAD.
You have Died. You will respawn after an indeterminate length of time has passed. Please enjoy your death dream in the meantime and thank you for playing Cauldron of Realms Ascended!
Illegal Alien is a canon story in QuietValerie's Troubleverse setting. Make sure you read Quietvalerie's Trouble with Horns, her second Troubleverse story Witch of Chains and ChiriChiriChiri's Troubleverse story Snowbound.
The Troubleverse & Kammiverse have their own discord where you can talk to other readers and the various authors including myself and QuietValerie.