pedestrians trying to appear incognito as they scurry down the sidewalk. In fact, there doesnât seem to be a living soul around.
The old man.
I never saw them at Goofy Golf.
I take the two wooden steps to the trailer in one leap, turn the handle, stop dead in my tracks.
Devinâs skateboard is parked right inside the door like it always is. I flip it over, check for the scuffed-up Virgin Mary on the bottom.
I slide my gaze toward the living room, half expecting to see one of those commandos sitting there next to the old man, catching an episode of Promzillas with a beer in one hand and a powdered doughnut in the other. But the only signs of life inside the trailer come from the TVâstill on, still throbbing gray-blue light into the room.
This has got to be some kind of nacho-and-Mountain Dewâinduced hallucination.
I hear a muffled commotion coming from down the hall, picture Devin, tipped over in his chair, lying helpless on the floor while Iâve been dicking around on a pointless mission down at Goofy Golf. I sprint to his room, but itâs empty; then head for mine, throw my shoulder into the door.
Itâs not Devin.
Itâs the Relic. Turned on, logged in, already in play.
I taste stale air through my open mouth as I approach the desk, as I lower myself one vertebra at a time onto the squeaky chair. My toon is lurking, watching a group of raiders who have found a way UnderGround. I canât tell if itâs one of the tunnels theyâre wandering around in or somewhere else; Iâm not even sure if this is a legitimate platoon or some kind of trap. All I know is the subterranean walls are made of opaque bricksâlike the interrogation room I was just in.
I square the gaming glasses on my face, promise myself Iâll just hang back, that Iâm not going to join. Haze thinks Iâll lose myself in the game, and I made him a promise to stop; but following a group just to watch what theyâre up to isnât the same as playing. At least thatâs how I get it to work out in my head.
The tunnel raiders look a little unsure of themselves, almost like wherever they are, theyâre surprised to be there. Or scared. They make slow, awkward advances through the maze of tunnels, their hybrid penlight-wands not nearly bright enough for them to see whatâs coming. Probably why it looks like theyâre just fumbling around in the dark.
Iâd send my toon back to the surface to try to find the rest of my platoon, but I donât exactly know where I am. The mini-map on-screen is oddly pixilated, like the Relic is having an aneurysm or something, so even thatâs no help.
Thereâs a kind of weight to being isolated and alone. Itâs starting to crack me a little.
I hop off the chair, poke my head out the bedroom door, hoping to catch the old man coming back from getting fried chicken or whatever else would be enough of an incentive to get him to leave the house with Devin.
I stand in the doorway of my room like Iâm in Boneyard limbo, halfway between the UnderWorld and the UpperWorldâhalf waiting for the old man and Devin to turn up again and half watching the action on-screen play out like a Three Stooges routine. T-Man is hiding in a little alcove as the raiders start scattering, bumping into each other, darting off in different directions, barking orders on chat with no clear leadership. I wipe my sweaty palms against the grunge-funk of my pant legs just to stop myself from running over and grabbing the mouse. Itâs not my platoon, I remind myself. It could be a trap.
My gaze clicks back and forth from the living room to the computer screen, watching for movement, for anything that will start making sense either here or in the Boneyard.
Three guys break loose from the brigade. Theyâre wearing mottled gray-purple-black fatigues, their bowl-cut hair flapping behind them as