Prologue, II.


Phantasm

Chapter II: Mirrors


"Fantasy mirrors desire. Imagination reshapes it."
—Mason Cooley


Avery Harman
Head Designer


Something wasn't right.

Avery's eyes scanned obsessively across the 3D image, over and over, unable to satiate the itch that continued to curl deep into her skin. Over the years, she had learned to trust her gut instinct above all else—even if there was zero evidence to accommodate it. If she looked hard enough—if she refused to let go—then she would always find her answer.

"There's nothing in the terabytes, Avery. We've been looking for the past hour."

"There must be," Avery answered. "Clarence said that one of the non-players characters combusted. Roald couldn't find out why. Said something about it not necessarily being a technical issue but—"

"Of course he will push blame elsewhere," Levi replied, perched on the side of Avery's desk, "Why would he admit to being wrong when he can just blame the new girl?"

Avery visibly tensed. "It can't hurt to look though."

"It can," Levi chirped, "He just wants to undermine you."

Avery barely knew Roald—or Levi, for that matter. She had only been on the team for a few months and all of that time was spent fixing the mountain of errors that was left on her desk.

"Why would he—"

"He's obtuse, that's why. Practically more machine than man."

Still—the itch couldn't just be that. Avery knew there had to be more to it.

"You can go home, if you want?" Avery smiled up at her junior, "There's no point both of us staying this late. I'll turn in for the night soon."

Levi didn't miss a beat as she jumped from the desk, floral dress and combat boots truly a stark difference. "Don't have to tell me twice! So much to do this week. But at least we get a party at the end of it, after all. Dom's birthday bash! Oh—"

"—Oh," Avery paled, "I didn't know. I should have got him something."

Levi pitifully placed her hand on Avery's shoulder, "Don't look so sad. You'll get wrinkles and no boy is worth wrinkles."

Avery laughed breathily, "Gotcha."

"Don't work yourself into the ground, Avery," Levi sang as she walked away, "See you tomorrow!"

As Levi skipped from the office, Avery turned back to the screen, finally alone. Her fingers moved hurriedly across the 3D imagery of the arena. The arrow lingered over the non-player child, only moments before he exploded.

It isn't… right.

She slowed the frame rate down.

Boom.

Again.

Boom.

Her sleepy eyes twinkled as she saw, frame by frame, as the non-player child exploded in a shower of pixels and finally, for the first time, heard the words as they rang in her headphones.


Levi Rauch
Game Designer


Perched on yet another desk—and nowhere near her own, as per usual—Levi loved to people-watch. It gave her such a rush to understand how each person's habits affected their day-to-day work. Codi who ate her sandwich at her desk and left no crumbs. Kyle who loved to shout "'Sup!" at everyone as they walked in. Roald who simply refused to talk to anyone but the odd, quiet word to Jonah who, equally, did not speak to many people.

"Do you not think it's weird?"

"Hmm—?" Dominic made a face, mouth stuffed full of chips. He hurriedly swallowed, covering his mouth politely. "Why do you always want to talk when I'm eating? Is it, like, a kink of yours?"

Levi laughed, showing her hand playfully into the packet sitting on his lap, "In your wildest dreams, Dom."

Dominic scoffed, "What am I supposed to think is weird then?"

"The exploding child," Levi whispered, "Avery was digging into it a few nights ago but then…"

"Then…?" Dominic leaned forward, eager to hear—a fiend for idle office gossip.

"She just… stopped. I don't know her that well but I do know that she is obsessive."

Dominic sighed disappointedly, turning back to his monitor, "Maybe she found the answer?"

Levi shook her head, "She hasn't mentioned it since. I've asked and I'm being stonewalled which is wild 'cause she's not exactly the most humble of people."

That seemed to interest Dominic again as he spun back around, "Oooo. So you're telling me that she either didn't work it out, or—"

"—Or, she did, and she isn't telling me what happened."

Well slap my ass and call me Sherlock, Levi smirked. Even if the non-player character had malfunctioned, it really wasn't a big deal. A simple error that could easily be rebooted. Lord, in Levi's line of work, she was forever being told to 'soft-reboot' her ideas into something more manageable.

"I really assumed there was more gossip than that," Dominic shoved a chip in his mouth, "Disappointing."

"Who knows," Levi hopped off the desk, a twinkle in her eyes and a sly smirk on her lips, "Who knows, my sweet, summer child. Better head back to make that bank. Deuces!"


Jonah Keating
Head Programmer


The room was unusually quiet as the day neared to an end—a low hum of chatter that finally allowed Jonah a little peace.

He was used to crowded, chaotic work areas. The low tide amongst the high waves. The small, solemn fish in a pond full of yapping sharks. He was always able to just tune it out completely, diving head-on into his work.

But here…? It was entirely different. It was near-impossible to just work.

"Jonah?"

Jonah blinked as he exited his programming, purposely turning his volume down just a touch, "Yes?"

"Do you have the data for the obstacles?"

"Yes."

"Can you send it over? I need to input it."

He silently sent the data over, as requested by Roald—rather bluntly, though Jonah didn't mind so much. He appreciated the lack of chit-chat from the Head Developer. He wished a lot of the others were similar, though he would never not indulge them out of politeness.

"Is that everything?"

"It is. Thanks." Roald disconnected from the call abruptly.

The data had been about the exploding non-player character—an event playfully dubbed as 'boomgate' by the others.

Roald had headed the investigation, as per Clarence's request. It had been passed back and forth between departments with little to no information being shared. Somehow, in some capacity, it had happened and nobody could answer why.

Jonah had personally raked over everything his team had offered up to him before even submitting it to development. He knew, without a doubt, it wasn't down to them.

He couldn't say much about the others.

"Are you not leaving yet?"

Jonah pulled his headphones off when he saw Dominic standing at the end of his desk, "Sorry?"

Dominic smiled, "It's pretty late. Don't you think you should call it quits for the night?"

"Oh," Jonah hadn't even realised the time, "I will in a bit."

Dominic tightened his backpack, "Well, I hope you have a good night, boss."

"You too."

He watched as his junior left the room, leaving only a trickle of other night owls at their desks, burning away the midnight oil—only at ten p.m instead. He most likely had a lot in common with them. Unfortunately, communication and befriending someone was his most fatal flaw.

Still—he was there to work and earn money, not make friends.

He looked fondly at the singular photo that sat on his desk. Him—only younger—holding two swaddled babies in his arms.

Everything I'm doing, I do it for you, Jonah's eyes twinkled before they darkened. His fingers moved the mouse over another tab, hidden from sight. Everything.


w w w. dreamsarenightmarestoo. weebly. c o m


We're starting to develop our subplot a little more with our spacemen—I mean, characters.

I've had a lovely handful of tributes subbed to me so far! Thank you to everyone. If you are still interested but you have yet to start a form, don't hesitate to give me a shout! I'd love to still see/hear from you to see what's going. Gives me more chance to brainrot over them obsessively.

See you at the next update!

-Corey