So the world ended. Whoopsie? We didn’t even see it coming. Quite literally as it came at us faster than the speed of light. Don’t worry though, it got better. Also, I am not joking about the world ending. Most people say that and mean humans are inconvenienced for some reason. Nope, all matter disintegrated at the atomic scale there for a few moments. Apparently the local universe wasn’t actually stable? Don’t ask me to go into too much detail. It would require both of us to have a few more college degrees than sense, and I at least lack them (both the degrees and the sense). Anyway, the energy/matter/wibbly wobbly strings were at a local minimum and not the universal minimum. Basically, what we took for sea level was actually a nice little mountain lake and when the dam busted so did, well, everything.
Now here is where things go a bit off track with what normal meant before. You see magic is real, qi is real, gods are real. Not on old Earth mind you but souls pay little attention to time and space so we dreamed of it. In fact, the closer the shift in reality got to Earth, the closer our dreams got to the new reality. This is basically me tip toeing around the fact that it was a ‘System Apocalypse’. Reality became a video game, I became a dungeon, and this is my story.
[BEEP BEEP BEEP]
“Gah, okay alarm, I’m up. Why did I ever turn the memory puzzle on for the app?”
[BEEP BEEP BEEP]
“Gah, what time is it? Ack! Almost two pm, I must have slept through the first three alarms. Thank god I set up multiple alarms. Then again, sometimes it would be nice to sleep through my shift. Not for my wallet, but my health.”
“With my luck, Karen will be in charge today. I don’t care about much, but she rubs me the wrong way. All I want to do is my job and read some books when the customers don’t need me. Sure it's against the rules, but dang it, I do my job! Hell, I do twice the job most of those school kids they hire.”
Doyle Huxley gets out of his bed, slides his glasses on, and staggers into the bathroom. He checks the mirror. Black hair, green eyes, and a pale complexion so nothing new. He runs his hand through his hair and sighs, “dang it. Didn’t I get it cut recently? It is long enough I have to do more than run a comb through it.”
He rolls his eyes and brushes his teeth. Supposedly his electric toothbrush does a better job than using a normal one. Though that would require more regular use. “At least I brush more than I floss. The joke about how the dentist must be going senile because he keeps asking the last time you flossed when he was there comes to mind. Not quite that bad, but not good. Now scale, can you lie to me today?”
Of course the scale can’t lie let alone understand him so once the numbers stabilizes it reads just over 250 pounds. “Eh, not the worst height to weight ratio. My slight attempts at dieting would get more results if work stopped putting out free donuts. I can’t help myself with free food. There is just something about it.” His mind slips to the fact that at six foot tall this means he is obese by some standards, not that he looks it. This wouldn’t bother him at all except his job is 100 percent on his feet and his feet don’t like him afterwards.
After Doyle finishes his morning ritual, there is still a good couple hours left till work. With his paranoia about being late, this means he only has maybe an hour to chill. Not much else to do, not that he ever does much else, he pops on a lets play he has been following and reads a book on his cell phone. However half an hour in his cell phone is running low on batteries so he has to plug it in.
“Really? I know the battery is dying, but this is silly. It should last a couple hours of use!” Then the internet cuts out. He doesn’t notice at first because for once the video he was watching had buffered, but that doesn’t last. A quick glance over tells him everything he needs to know. The light that represents the internet connection is dark. He facepalms, “really really? This is how we’re going to play it world?”
Not even bothering to take his clothes off, Doyle flops back onto his bed. This lets his mind wander, dangerous at the best of times. The thing that comes up is his friends, or lack thereof. Not that he ever had too many. However moving from one state to another cut off the few he had gained. They stayed in touch and played some games over the web, but that didn’t last. To earn his rent the store basically required an open schedule from him or they wouldn’t schedule him enough hours. Difficult to plan a game when the hours he worked changed from week to week at random.
He didn’t really mind it that much. Once again, not the most active at seeking friends. “Still would be nice to have a gaming group again. Starting to miss roleplaying games at this point.” He knew people could make friends while at work, but that didn’t seem to, well, work for him. When at work he worked and any social cues outside of the customer service script flew out of his head. Not that his position allowed much socializing.
The alarm on his phone goes off, disrupting his introspection. He stuffs his pockets with all the random things he is convinced are needed. He pays special attention to include the phone power pack, so when his cell dies he can revive it. This reminds him, so he checks the charge. A wordless growl escaped his lips when he saw it barely went up to 20 percent. Frustrated at the lack of the so-called fast charging, he plugs it into said power pack and pockets them both. “Guess I am not listening to my podcasts on the way to work today. I could charge it with the charger in the car but that is too much work for such a short drive.”
Still, time is ticking and he only has an hour left before work. Of course the drive is only ten minutes tops, but he likes to have a little time to adjust when he gets there. One final stretch and he tugs his dopey work shirt on. As he leaves the house things are crazy windy and it looks a little red so he glances up. Just some clouds in front of the sun. Not even a proper overcast day. While some people don’t like that, Doyle very much prefers a day of cloud cover.
Once in the car, he tries to start it up. With how things were going it couldn’t be that easy. He inherited the car from a relative and it could start with the press of a button. Of course that was predicated on his fancy key fob not running low on batteries. He spends more time than he would like to admit on fumbling for his keys before he takes off the seatbelt. Now out in public he has to stifle his vocal commentary on his life and so can only think to himself, ‘leastwise I can just stick this in the slot to turn it on. This was my last replacement battery too so I can’t go and pop another one in.’
With the key fob inserted into the slot, the car turns on right away. That was a joke by the way. Life just isn’t going that well today, so of course it takes a good minute of heart stopping car noises before it takes. ‘I do NOT need a car bill right now. Though mom will cover it, I can’t keep going to her whenever an emergency pops up.’ With the car going he pulls out of the apartment complex. Traffic is lighter than usual, so things aren’t too bad. It only took him eight minutes to get to work.
Once out of his car he fast walks into the building with his head down. Not just the traffic was light but the customers hadn’t showed up either so he got to the break room without interruption. They usually ignore him if he has his headphones in, but he didn’t have that shield today. As he slips into the employees only section, he has to do a bit of stealth. Some coworkers had decided to no-call no-show and Doyle did not want to start early. He would have if asked. His willingness to cover for people made sure management liked him. However Karen was, as he predicted, the coach today so while he doesn’t want to burn any bridges he wasn’t volunteering.
Up in the break room, no one was there. Not that people generally were. It was actually one thing he couldn’t decide if he liked or not about the job. The schedule being what it was, there generally wasn’t more than a couple people on break at any one time. With his introverted tendencies, this was just fine for him. Plus they can’t turn on the damn tv, which he hated more than anything else on break. It was always the news, a soap, or sports. He already didn’t watch tv in general and those were his least favorite shows. On the other hand, all those office tropes of gathering around the watercooler or having lunch together looked tempting.
With no one in the room Doyle’s first action is to turn the tv off because it was always on. Also, there was no giant box of donuts, a nice turn of events. That squared away, he takes the coveted seat by the wall outlet and plugs his phone in there. The stories aren’t going to read themselves after all.
Time flies by and well before he would prefer it is time to head down to work. Not exactly on time. The time keeping system lets you clock in a few minutes after you are scheduled to start and not be counted late. He didn’t enjoy making use of this knowledge to such an extreme, but once again, Karen.
Moments away from needing to clock in and he is standing around the corner from the time clock. Phone out he watches the seconds tick down and with less than a minute to spare he heads out. Of course the machine doesn’t accept his thumbprint first time, but that is why he gave it a little leeway. Second time he fails as well, so he goes for his secret weapon. Third time and his index finger gets accepted. Yeah, his index finger. The print of his thumb, mind you. But he had made the startling discovery that it worked with his index as well. Not only that, but it had never failed to recognize it. A few of his coworkers he told about this got a good laugh out of it. Especially as none of his other fingers worked at all. Just one of those strange things that happens.
The moment it dings acceptance, Karen is there. Before she can ask why he is late, the lights dim. Karen curses and blames the wind. They both wait and the lights come back up. As Doyle is about to shrug though, the lights go down again. Far as it concerns him, they can stay off so he can go home. Up again, but the power fails even quicker. One of the other employees coming over to ask Karen a question starts a countdown with his fingers. At zero, the distinctive sound of the generator coming online greets them. Some lights come on but only the bare minimum.
Doyle shrugs to Karen, “Guess I can sign right back out then!” Karen is about to say something in response when the world gets fuzzy. Doyle reaches up to his glasses, expecting them to be gone. However the move feels like he is underwater. Then things aren’t just fuzzy but literally coming apart like clouds of dust. The last thing he sees is the sun coming apart like a cloud of fireflies in the night as the ceiling can no longer block the view.