An itch you can’t bunk

“Absolykty outrageous” 

“Bastards, I want a refund before even buying it, aktually I wont even buy it lul”

“Mfs looking sketch af rn. Fuk dis game.”

“You are so fucking right. Be my girlfriend?”

Alice had stopped chuckling at the 100th comment like this but they just kept coming, it was now nearly a thousand. Her video had exploded, a bit, overnight, and crummy game media outlets and fanblogs were starting to print summaries of how she had revealed all the players, celebrities and randoms who had gotten keys with barely a whiff of illicitility, proven or not; she had complained on the behalf of all real players, echoing the sentiment of social media posts, much to the chagrin of the game producer, who had tried to calm things down with a plead for decency. Alice had managed to capture this too, just before she started rendering the video, and added a scathing commentary on how the company should take responsibility for this failure of fairness. 

Of course, 10k views was ok, but it wasn’t 100k.  The effort wasn’t worth the traffic, like dropping pound coins into the toilet bowl to fool the kidnapper waiting for you to finish while you text the police.

Sitting back in her office chair which didn’t recline, she scanned her emails on her phone while watching the video on her laptop, again, and again, while pondering it all. She looked at herself on the unnoticably dusty screen, as something brown started to eat into the plastic all around the edges.  There wasn’t enough light, she noted, as she watched herself gesturing frustration at the camera.  She had tried, but her desk lamp shone a definite yellow tint onto the scene.  At least her bed looked tidy, in the background, she had to consider that in her black tshirt and short pants, her hair tied up, it was all pretty clean. Her eyes had the eyeliner black flick, it looked ok. You could sometimes see the outline of her bust, but no jiggling. Perhaps this was a mistake. Why didn’t she just go with cleavage? No, they wouldn’t have taken her seriously. But the clicks, the clicks…. 

Alice checked her emails again. She hit the refresh on the video again. She notched something strange in her inbox. There, there… what’s that? An email that didn’t look like a notification.  It was from the London Game Show.  Her LGS press application had been approved!  What in the actual fuck. All she had done was give her gobbler account name. Had they noticed the video?  Or was it based on her first viral? But that was so old now, easily a month. She needed to know what was actually working. She looked over her accounts. They had all boosted a bit more, but not that much. People were still clicking on the bully video. The keys video was tiny in comparison and every other post was just not getting any attention. She tried hard not to be deflated about the whole thing. Every time she posted a photo she thought was cute and wholesome, she’d see someone with less clothes on getting more attention. She had to get on this cosplay train, but couldn’t decide on a character, there were just so many, and what game was she even going to settle on?  Perhaps she could stick to one game, or maybe just play everything. But surely she needed to be good at it… well, that’s not a problem, she’d be amazing at any game for sure. She normally won lots of games, apart from those crazy psychos online.  Those ones who were top of the leaderboards.  Well they were probably cheating.  Maybe she could expose them online too!  She flicked through the analysis.  It looked away too complicated and she got bored of it fast.  The subs were dropping, so it was time to do something, this show was her chance, a chance to make some more content, see something, to really get into the scene, meet some celebs!  And, for free. Sqwarking!  Now she needed some freaking exclusive amazing shit. Maybe she’d bump into an influencer or vtuber and she could do something steggi, something fresso. This could be Justin Credible.  She looked at the start times and map. Waitaminute… It’s starting tomorrow? It’s running during the week? Who goes during the week? She could go… maybe she’d be able to, oh of course, that’s how you get the exclusive, you have to go before the public gets in! But that would mean bunking… she started to wrestle with excuses that could/would/should fly.

Nei Ling ran. She ran and ran. She tried very hard not to look at her phone, but the larger screen dangling in front of her featured practically the same content. A smaller screen below showed her current speed and the next would show the calories burnt so far but she knew she’d have to watch an ad first. So she waited till she was really tired. This took a good twenty minutes, and she was proud of her progress. Her back hurt, however, and her skin was sweaty.  She slowed to a stop, looking around to see if anyone was staring, and dabbed her face. She had applied make up but there was always a risk someone would recognise her, even with her mask. She checked the calories burnt and after the ad, was pleased with the number, it seemed high. There was also a high number of notifications, likely her parents, or perhaps her patrons, the mobile games, the surgeon’s office, though probably not her teachers, and a hot wave burst upwards through her chest.  It’s fine, she told herself. It’s fine it’s fine fine. Per the advice, she turned her thoughts to the ad, as it seemed to be relevant to a conversation she had had the night before with another cosplayer, about entering the US market. The ad was for a payment system which made it simple to accept foreign money while the company would exchange it into local currency and keep records for easy tax returns. Nei was still wary of dealing with foreigners. She looked around. Still not many people today. Nobody was looking at her, focused on their own shit.  She adjusted her mask. She felt good.  She got back on the treadmill and continued to run, ignoring that thing that was starting to crawl down her thigh. 

The coach looked out of the window, at the towers that blocked his view of the setting sun. He remembered as a child, the towers were shorter. 

John looked out of the window. He admired the tangents of pink light he could see from behind the new apartment flats under construction. He stood like he was soaking up the remaining splinters of fading light and pointing out how beautiful it was to his family beside him. He looked at the neon signage that adorned the fluttering scaffolding and wondered how much  one on the top floor would cost. He automatically looked at his phone, for no reason.

“Currently trending in the last 20 minutes” said the phone assistant while he was scrolling aimlessly, “Ghost Heist 6 has just been leaked! Also, the Queen has passed away!!!”

“What the fu—–ck” said John out loud, “Ghost Heist 6? I wanna see that shit, let’s goooo.”

Gobbler was listening intently, as something in the back of his head reminded him to feel something, but was swiftly dismissed as he was occupied with a priority.

The morning came, and as students filed into their classrooms for some dregery, Alice jumped through the ticket gates behind some annoyed-yet-resigned-to-it suit. She was ready to rock! She had no freaking clue where to start.  As she crossed the road, she could see the convention building opposite, she just needed to walk over the pavillon. As she approached, the entrance branding, game posters and flashing lights loomed over her. She could see queues of people, hear the hum and drum of generic rat musik. There was no time to think about getting caught for doing this, there was no time to do anything but feel apprehensive, and grab the bull by the horns and shit herself. 

There were a lot of closed off areas to the public, and then different lines for different levels of press entry.  She was level “green” but hey ho, let’s just see where it goes, and she went to the shortest queue, fuck it.  She widened her eyes as sweetly as possible and somehow, with a smile, the guard scanned her pass, ignored what it beeped, waved her in, and off she went, scampering through the halls.  There was people everywhere, but not that much. Nobody really as young as her. She felt a little out of place with her jeans, pink tights and baseball jacket. There were just so many suits everywhere. Maybe this was a bad bad idea.  But there were the games! The stands, the huge huge posters, the attendants with tablets and headsets, the stages with multiple setups, wait, there were normal people and gamers here too. It was more like a market though. People were beckoning her to try out games, as suits looked on. As she sat in front of one FPS shooter based on elves hiding in the Berlin wall, she was sure someone was filming, and whaaaat, she became giddy. She got up after a little go, and cheeked her face in her phone. It was ok. She flitted around, waiting for someone to interview her, just on the offchance of a miracle someone recognised her… but no. She definitely not dejectedly came back and started filming, looking over people’s shoulders, listing to conversations she didn’t understand. She tried playing a game and was shocked when it told her she had to stop playing after 5 minutes. She kept moving and playing, and after two hours, realised she hadn’t filmed anything. Fuck! She ran back. More people were starting to fill up the place. 

The lights changed from dazzling to sombre, with the smells of soap and then coffee, big flashing screens and then small groups of suits, and then back again. As she continued to wander, she found herself with more and more suits and less noise.  It was a bit drab, to be honest, and she could feel people judging her, or sizing her up, or something.  There was a pop of champagne nearby.  Well, that sounded promising, and she tried to locate the source.

The VIP room was buzzing. It wasn’t really a room, more a box with a few comfy chairs thrown in. Still, there were two men in black guarding the entrance and checking badges. One was black and bald with a pair of sunglasses. The other was white and pale, with red hair, possibly a wig,, definitely coloured, waving around some heavy looking rod. The buzzing stopped as Cederick ‘Segs’ Rathbone, the producer of Ghost Heist series, walked in.  Some rando with a camera on a stick ran up to him and asked how he felt about “the biggest leak of our time”.  “Who are you?”  The usual put down was always effective but it could backfire, so Segs always followed with “I didn’t give you permission, if you were professional, you would ask first,” to which most would ask, and then he’d tell them to get an appointment, hand over his card, and fuck off.  However, this time, he was quite beyond angry and instead thwacked the selfiestick to the floor, obviously causing the smartphone’s shatterproof screen to shatter into a good few billion shards.  As this was the VIP room, he was surrounded by people who knew better to start filming the clip of a career, as he grabbed the neckbearded tubby man by the throat and clearly threatened him “get in my face ever again, and I will have you killed.” 

Alice happened to be walking past as this happened, but she was too busy looking at the map suggestions and kept on walking, as Charles and Hideki turned into the path, still with that lingering tinge in their mouths from the channel tunnel. “Hey look there’s Cederick,” noted Charles as they were waved into the VIP room by security, “I wonder what he thinks about the leak?”  Hideki looked at him, definitely not smirking, “that’s definitely a great idea, you should ask him directly, right now.”

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