Thursday, November 23, 2006

Players - 17

When his mother came back from work at half past midnight, Daryl Weir was still up, still deep in Trans. A slender, athletic black boy who looked a lot younger than his sixteen years, he was sitting cross-legged on a corduroy beanbag in T-shirt and boxers, hands folded around his customized controller, his face about a foot from the screen of his computer. The screen was the only source of light in the small, stuffy bedroom. It showed a solidly built man in a leather kilt and a harness hung with all kinds of kit marching at a steady pace down a ruined street, cradling an AK-47 in his muscular arms.

The man in the kilt was Daryl’s avatar, a fortune hunter with the handle Seeker8. Daryl was watching him from the usual player’s viewpoint, a few yards behind the back of his head, and steering him with his left thumb. The street stretched away across a parched plain gridded with low ruins and overgrown with a scrub of leafless bushes and a scattering of giant cactuses with crooked arms raised in surrender against a technicolour sunset. When he heard his mother call his name through the closed door of his room, Daryl hunched a fraction of an inch closer to the screen. He really didn’t need any distraction right now, not when Seeker8 was still a long way from the next save point and night was coming on fast.

The front door of the tiny apartment opened directly onto the living room, with the main bedroom and the bathroom off to the left, and the second bedroom, Daryl’s, and the kitchen off to the right. As Seeker8 marched along at an unvarying pace down the middle of the street, past the rusted shells of cars, low mounds of rubble, and street lights leaning at different angles, Daryl heard through the thin plasterboard wall the solid clunk of the refrigerator opening and closing, and knew that his mother was pouring herself a glass of chocolate milk. In a moment the TV would come on; when she got back from her night work, cleaning bank offices in Manhattan, his mother liked to relax in front of the TV with a comforting drink, a White Russian or iced chocolate milk spiked with vodka, before going to bed. But instead of the sudden blare of the TV, the door behind Daryl clicked open, and his mother said, ‘Sweetie, you still up?’
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