Downtime

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The bar was busy, now. The air was full of stale smoke and the scent of cheap drinks and stale perfume, as Wes walked in, scanned the room for a moment, and headed for the table where Ted, Jami and Sharon were sitting.

"Well, I found the place - but where are we, people?"

Jami grinned. "It's called Omikron, Wes - I asked Captain Mellow nicely, and he very kindly gave us a way in. Just be polite if the local cops come in, and we'll be fine."

Wes shook his head in wonder. Then he gave a massive shrug, and smiled. "You all ready for fresh drinks now?"

They were, and a couple of minutes later, Wes was carefully lowering a tray onto the table, with four pints of beer. Once that was accomplished, he sank onto a chair, gratefully.

"A long day, big fella?" Ted took one of the glasses, and raised it in salute. "You said it." Wes nodded, and took a surprisingly delicate sip of his own drink. "I sometimes wonder about the 'players' who direct us in the game - this one had me hiding on ledges and behind doors for whole arenas, just waiting to rocket people in the back. We didn't get all that many points, but boy did we annoy people!"

"Yeah," Jami contributed. "You got me at least ten times, didn't you!" "Hey, don't blame me, it wasn't my idea, was it?" Wes brought his fist down on the table, too slowly to cause any damage...but there was power behind it.

"Those kids sitting at their computers can make us do whatever they like, and all we can do is try to go slow, or hit the walls...or scratch our bottoms."

"Well, there isn't much we can do about that, is there?" Ted took a deep sip, and sighed. "My jockey was so useless at Asteroid Bonus, I must have drifted off into the vacuum a dozen times - my throat was sore with shouting Whoahh! all the time..."

Sarge joined them at the table, a tall cocktail glass in her hand. "Nice girls' room they have here," she announced. "And look what I found!" She held up a glowing ring. "Should I hand it in to the barman?"

Jami reached out her hand for it, and Sarge passed it over. "They use these to save games here - we'll keep it, it might be useful."

Wes grinned. "We were complaining about today's bunch of jockeys."

Sarge grimaced. "Don't remind me! They keep you running flat out for the whole 15 minutes, but they can't aim straight, and half of them think 'dodge' is just an old automobile. If I had a penny for each rocket that hit me today, I could afford to buy the next round - the next ten rounds, probably!"

"I never have a really good jockey", Ted said mournfully. "I envy those greenskin guys, the Barracudas, they get all the best ones. Or Justin, he's just so popular! And even William was boasting in the locker room, he's got a new regular who is a bit good." He took a deep swig. "But me? Oh, no, I'm trying to run into walls, or getting 'surgically removed', or falling off bounce-pads..."

Jami patted his arm consolingly. "Somebody will come along," she told him. "I have a couple of good ones - one of them even likes to stand around and talk, or she lets me show off my dance moves, which is great!"

"And have you seen what they get up to at the controls?" Ted went on. "Some of them are stark naked, I swear, some sit there scoffing ice-cream -"

"Not at the same time, I hope," Sharon broke in, grinning. "That could get a bit shocking!"

"Well, no. And sometimes I feel like shouting, they don't know where the whomper is, or the doubler, or the megapower, they wouldn't use the 'alt fire' modes if their lives depended on them...my lives, rather..."

"And the nonsense they speak," Sarge added, gazing sadly at a glass which was now nearly empty. "What the heck is 'BRB', anyway?"

"Be Right Back," Ted told her, getting to his feet only very slightly unsteadily. "A little sooner than 'BBL', which is Be Back Later."

Sharon smiled. "I used to think 'LOL' was Lots of Love, but it's Laughs Out Loud - and 'ROFL' is Rolls On Floor Laughing. As for whether 'GS' is Good Shot or Get Stuffed, the jury's still out on that one."

Sarge scratched her head. "NIAWOL?"

"Nerf Is A Way of Life."

"NIJAGH?"

"Nerf Is Just A Goshdarn Hobby." Sharon drained her glass. "At least, that is the polite version."

Ted had strayed into the far corner of the bar, and must have tripped a laser-beam or something, because a three-piece band began to play and sing in a caged-off area over there. He stood watching, nodding his head in time to the music, his errand forgotten...after a couple of minutes, he headed back to the table, as the performance continued.

"I knew I should have brought my triple strike", Wes commented, using his chin to point at the under-clad singer.

"My gosh, that's - him!" Sarge looked astonished. "The Thin White Duke, A Lad Insane - him!"

Jamie looked smug. "I thought you'd be impressed. If we were going to hang out in a game, make it an interesting one, not to mention one with the age for drinking set lower than some I could mention - and the Captain came up trumps, didn't he?"

Ted tried to look unimpressed. "Better than spending a 'nice restful evening' in HalfLife." He shuddered at the memory.

"So there weren't any bars," Jami said. "We got out alive, didn't we?"

"Leaving a good few health points behind."

"My round, is it?" Jami changed the subject. "Beer again - or whisky?" Everyone opted for the hard stuff. Wes emptied his beerglass, watching as she dashed to the bar. "A great girl, that - but I don't think she's even heard of the 'walk' option, she's always in such a hurry."

"Like most of our jockeys", Sarge replied. "Oh,my aching feet..."

"But, all in all, while we do moan, we like it, don't we?"

Sarge paused. "Well, it was either this or the McBurger bar", she said at last. "And at least we never have to ask if people want fries with that!"


And that is the end of that little story, done originally with Slam's fiction contest in mind, and revealing exclusively what the "avatars" get up to once their working day is over. "Omikron", also known as "The Nomad Soul", is a fine game to play, though I've never got particularly far into it. It does feature a bar where David Bowie comes out and sings for the patrons, and generally would make a good evening out - just avoid the massive police robots, keep a low profile, and you will be fine...