Robin was happy Eli had given Cory’s GameStation away to Kara. Given her current situation, she couldn’t very well chat with her guildmates in the Mayhem Templar. Without GuildChat going, she found she just couldn’t enjoy playing Aspect Realms like she used to. She’d have to find a solution for that eventually, but for the moment, she just felt like playing a game she had no ties to. Thus, a sci-fi shooter like Corona Forge was the exact type of game she was in the mood for.
That, however, wasn’t to say she wasn’t still gritting her teeth in frustration. The game itself wasn’t frustrating; Cory had been flabbergasted when Robert had topped the leaderboard in a match of Corona Forge despite not being a huge shooter guy. Robin was proving to be just as talented as Robert had been. She had the high score again. She was just barely beating out a guy named Fretribution though she doubted the guy was fully trying.It seemed to her like he was just patrolling out in the open trying to coax people into attempting to ram him with vehicles. Those noobs tended to end up as charred corpses when he would lob grenades directly into their passenger seat. Regardless, Robynne was number one for the moment and it felt good.
The first thing that was frustrating Robin was Cory’s headset. It wasn’t sitting on her head correctly. She had adjusted it about a dozen times, but nothing felt right. Granted, Cory had a melon-sized head, and Robin’s new head was considerably smaller, but it wasn’t the size issue that was irking her; it was how her hair sat underneath the headset. It just bunched up weird.
It was a small issue, really. It was just hair after all. But it nagged at her brain that something was wrong. When you wore a hat or something similar on your head, you just knew how it felt. Robin didn’t. Everything felt off. Jeans sat on her hips funny. When she took a step, her new body would shift the wrong way and create a slight but unwanted bounce in her chest. When she chewed food, it felt like she had taken too big of a bite in her smaller mouth. When she laughed, she sounded like some dumb cheerleader. And now headsets didn’t feel right. Plus, on top of the irksome way it sat, she had to deal with her hair which was so much longer than she’d ever want. It dangled over the back of the couch and created a very slight but noticeable strain on her neck. It was infuriating.
Robin dismissed her discomfort from her mind and tried to focus on the game. Red team was capping points A and C. They already had point B. It didn’t matter how high Robin’s score was if the other team capped all three points. Robin descended down a hill, pulled out a plasma thrower and decimated a red team hovertank. She approached point C with caution swapping her weapon to the scatter laser. Once she got into the point, it’d be close quarters combat.
A random red player poked his head around the corner and peppered Robin with some bullets that dropped her shields by about half. “Sugar!” Robin ducked behind a large boulder and lobbed a grenade. If he was stupid, he’d jump towards her to avoid the explosion. Luckily for Robin, if there was anything she had learned, it was that most gamers weren’t that bright.
Her grenade detonated. He predictably jumped forward. Robin smiled and leapt over the boulder and at him. The red guy didn’t seem to expect that. Before he could even respond, Robin had blown him away with two shots of her scatter laser. As his body ragdolled, she landed and scanned the ground to see his gear. She smiled. He had a flash grenade; perfect for assaulting a room of unfriendlies.
Robin ditched her normal frag grenades and picked up the flash grenades. She tepidly approached the doorway her recently deceased friend had emerged from. C was only 25% captured. She had time to coordinate with her teammates. She flipped the microphone on, “I’m about to charge into C. If you’re sniping, please warn me if you see more reds coming in.”
“Is that right, Blustery? You want reds cumming into you, you slut?” Robin groaned and checked the upper right corner to see who was talking. She had received comments like this all morning. The voice belonged to some dude with the handle PwnTang827 followed by a string of characters designed to look like male genetalia. Classy.
“Wow, dude,” Robin responded while looking for option to mute the guy, “you sound super smart. I’m sure the ladies love you.”
Another voice, that of ChaosBucketz piped up, “Wow. Busty. You hot? You sound hot.”
Robin ground her teeth together. This was the third oh-so-creative person to make the same blustery-busty joke. The internet seemed full of all kinds of really original people this morning. “The name is Blustery, angelcakewipe.” Robin grimaced. Her uncle had been right; she had gotten too comfortable swearing. And now she was likely going to pay for it.
ChaosBucketz sounded confused, “Angelcakewipe?”
PwnTang827 surprisingly moved past her weird wording. “Hey, the man asked you a simple question. You too fuckin’ stupid to answer it, bitch?” All Robin had done was say stuff she would have said to coordinate with teammates. As a guy, they were normally met with some sort of acknowledgement, silence, or some profanity laced insult telling Robert to mind his own business. As Robin though, she had to add oddly sexual insults or come ons to the list.
Robin groaned and said nothing. This was her sixth match of the morning. She had endured crap like this in two other matches. She had seen her guild’s treatment of their only female member, ColderTurkey. That stuff had mostly been unfortunate, but well-meaning or just stupid commentary. But this? This stuff was beyond anything Robin had seen ColderTurkey go through. Is this what being a girl on the internet was going to bring Robin? Was opening her mouth going to engender this kind of moronic stupidity all the time? And where the fudge was the mute option in this menu?
PwnTang827, seemingly uncomfortable with the fact that he couldn’t hear the sound of his own voice, spoke once more. “What’s the matter Busty? Don’t feel like talking? Is it that time of the month?”
Robin glared at the screen and shook her head. She checked the scoreboard. PwnTang827 was near the bottom. Robin smirked. Fine. If this guy wanted a flame war, then he’d get his flame war. “What was that, Pwn? Sorry, I have a hard time hearing you all the way up here at the top of the leaderboard. You might have to speak up.”
With that comment, the entire team started talking into their mics at once:
“Oh snap, son!”
“Oh ho ho! She made you the bitch!”
The uproarious laughter gave Robin a surge of confidence. She stopped looking for the mute button in the menu and instead just tossed her flash grenade into point C. She couldn’t hear it going off over the sound of all the laughing. Despite not hearing it go of, she charged into the point. Three reds. All of them were firing wildly as their screens likely were all blurred due to the grenade. Robin made quick work of all three with her scatter laser and started capping C.
The entire time everyone was talking, she could see ChaosBucketz’s wasn’t saying anything. PwnTang827, on the other hand… his icon was lighting up. He was saying a lot but couldn’t be heard over everyone else’s laughter. Finally he screamed into his mic. “Shut up, you cunt! I’m right below you! You can’t talk you camping dyke!”
Robin opened her mouth but the guy named Fretribution beat her to the punch, “Right below her? Did you think everyone in the lobby suddenly had an aneurysm and forgot how to read a leaderboard? Or a map? We can all see her capping the point, not camping as you oh so eloquently alluded to.”
PwnTang827 didn’t take kindly to that. “Stay outta this, ya fuck.”
Fretribution laughed, “You sound like you have a really big vocabulary, dude.”
“Suck my dick, ya fucker! Suck it! Suck it! Suck it!” With that soliloquy, PwnTang827 left the lobby.
The entire lobby lit up again. “No! Don’t go PwnTang! We neeeeed you!”
“What will we ever do without him?”
“Capping A now.”
“What a fuckin’ idiot.”
Fretribution laughed with the group. “Yeah, he was MVP for sure. Nice cap of C, Blustery.”
Robin gave a relieved sigh. At least everyone on the internet wasn’t an insufferable idiot. “It was no problem.” Two blues walked into point C and helped Robin fend off some red attackers. “How is point B looking?”
“No problems here at B. You guys gonna cap A?” Fretribution asked.
One of the random yellers responded, “Yeah, no reds in sight. We’ve got this.” A few seconds later, point A turned blue and Robin’s team won. As the team cheered an emblem popped up on Robin’s screen, announcing her as the game’s MVP. A couple of her teammates congratulated her but she was already taking the headphones off.
Though she felt good for getting on top of the leaderboard once more and cutting down that PwnTang dude in epic fashion, she didn’t like the direction the interactions with her fellow gamers had gone. Her hair wasn’t even completely dry from her shower and she was already worn down by all the insults and creepy come-ons that she had endured. Then again, her hair now took forever to dry and it wasn’t like the people on the GameStation Network were known for being the most poli…
“Why do you go by Blustery?”
Robin jumped off the couch. “Son of biscuit!” She spun around but tripped on the controller cable and fell to the ground. Her hair, annoyingly long and full, wrapped around her face like thread around a spool. The taste of wet hair and shampoo filled her mouth and she spat the invading locks out with disgust.
Robin parted the curtain of her moist, red mane from her face and looked up to see Noriko standing behind the couch with a raised eyebrow. “You are jumpy.”
Robin glared. “Don’t do that!”
“Sneak up on me like that.”
Noriko crossed her arms behind her back. “How did I sneak up on you? I merely walked into the apartment.”
Robin shook her head and tried to stand up. Halfway up she was yanked back to the ground by her head. “Donut!” In standing back up she had stepped on her own hair. “Rrrg! A billion for real curses upon Fate for this stupid hair!”
Noriko hopped over the couch and offered her hand to help Robin up. Robin grumbled and accepted the help, careful not to step on her own hair this time. “Thanks.”
Noriko gave a polite nod, though Robin could swear she could read an amused smirk on Noriko’s constantly deadpan face. “I see you are still adjusting to your new hair. And that you didn’t go to class as you had planned on last night.”
Robin grabbed an offending lock and held it up like a lawyer displaying evidence. “My hair is still wet. How? How is that possible? I showered two hours ago!”
Noriko shrugged. “You have rather full and long hair. Without aid of some form of dryer I would expect you to weigh nearly five kilos heavier out of the shower and it’d take approximately three hours to dry on its own.”
The mention of kilos had Robin pause and mentally do the conversion to pounds in her head. “Around 11 pounds? That sounds about right. Was practically straining my neck when I got out.”
Noriko nodded. “I’m surprised you didn’t transform like Vivian normally does. Saves a lot of time and hassle, especially given how long your hair is.”
Robin sighed. “Kara suggested I try showering and getting ready like a normal girl would for a few days, just so I could get used to it.”
“Really? Kara did not take issue with the fact that you were planning on powering up then down to get ready?” Noriko asked as she walked into the kitchen without any of her steps making a sound.
“She did but I basically told her there wasn’t a snowball’s chance in Hell I was putting up with it every day. She suggested this just so, I don’t know, I could cover for myself in any girl on girl conversation or something.” Robin pointed at Noriko’s feet. “And there, you did it again. You sneak around everywhere.”
Noriko squinted, “How was I sneaking just now?”
“Your feet,” Robin explained, “they don’t make any sound as you walk. When you opened the door. No sound either. I didn’t hear you come in at all and you nearly gave me a heart attack.”
Noriko nearly rolled her eyes. It was slight, but Robin could see it. “I doubt the seriousness of this medical claim, Robynne.”
Robin threw her hands up, “Whether you meant to or not you creep everywhere. It’s freaking me right the honey out.”
Noriko reached into the fridge and pulled out a small bowl of nuts and berries. “A basic tenant of ninjutsu is to remain quiet and unseen.” Noriko took a handful of the mix and offered the bowl to Robin.
“Thanks,” Robin said, grabbing a handful for herself and popping them into her mouth. “And, yeah, you need to be quiet and stuff when you’re on a mission. But when you’re walking into your dorm you really shouldn’t be sneaking in and scaring your roommates half to death.”
Noriko took a bite of her food, chewing carefully before speaking. “What would you have me do? Stomp around like an elephant?”
“When you’re doing non-ninja things, it would be appreciated if you at least didn’t move like a ghost and made sounds when opening a door. Point in fact, I have no evidence you don’t just phase through doors like a ghost you make so little sound.”
“You ascribe far too much mysticism to my training.” Noriko sighed, “However, if it would calm you down I will be louder.”
Robin popped another mouthful of nuts and berries into her mouth. “Fat’s awl I cin askf.”
Noriko took another small handful and put the mix back in the fridge. Robin got the impression she took more than Noriko had intended to offer. “But back to my question, last night you were implying you’d be going to classes today. You had mentioned the possibility of meeting up with Mr. Drake and Mr. Frost to inspect all the clubs who would be recruiting in the courtyard since this week is Club Week. Yet you are here. May I inquire as to why?”
Robin swallowed down the rest of her nuts and berries and sighed, “Just wasn’t ready.”
“And yet you were ready last night?”
“I just… while I was in the shower I realized I wasn’t ready.”
Noriko leaned forward on the kitchen counter. “What caused this?”
Robin shook her head. “It’s stupid.”
Noriko somehow managed to give Robin a flatter look than usual. “Given your situation, Robynne, I doubt very little to be quote-unquote stupid. You are in an unprecedented situation with stresses no one in the world is capable of fully understanding. What happened?”
Robin raised an eyebrow. It wasn’t that she didn’t appreciate the understanding tone; it felt great to have someone who seemed to “get it.” It was just that this was the same person who brandished a sword at her friends and tried to steal her phone. However, ever since Robin’s transformation, Noriko, seemingly emotionless Noriko, had been the person who seemed to understand the depth of Robin’s sacrifice.
Robin decided to stop analyzing Noriko’s motivation. What evil motivation could the ninja have for being a shoulder to lean on? Plus it was just exhausting to constantly be skeptical of your roommate’s good intentions. If there was ever a time to let her guard down, now was it.
“There are things,” Robin explained, “that you don’t realize you are used to. Every little thing is reminding me of my situation. The shower, back before all this, was my refuge. I’d take long showers and just think. There, in the shower, I was free from all distractions. No music. No people. Maybe, to some extent, no clothes too. Just me, the cold water, and my thoughts.”
“Not today though,” Robin said with a scowl. “Today I stepped into that shower and got hit with even more reminders of who I’m not anymore. For one, the shower is too big. Everything is too big. I feel like a fudging dwarf at this size! I looked down on Cory and Eli before all this and now I’m looking up at Kara and Angela!”
“Then there is the water itself. It was hitting me too hard and it was too cold. My skin is practically hairless and sensitive as all get out. Plus the water runs down my body all wrong. It’s the weirdest, most surreal thing! You don’t think about how water runs down your body until your body changes and it feels like something sinister is going on?”
Noriko raised an eyebrow. “Sinister? Sinister how?”
Robin groaned. How did she say this. “Like, well, again, it’s stupid, but it was almost like someone was watching me. Feeling me up or something.”
“Feeling you up?”
Robin waved her off. “Not really but… it felt like I was being touched. Like I wasn’t alone.”
Noriko squinted her eyes, “But you were in the shower. How could you not be alone?”
Robin shrugged. “Like I said, it’s stupid. I know I’m alone but I couldn’t help shake that feeling that I was being watched and touched.”
Noriko nodded, “I was just making sure you didn’t think something more nefarious was afoot. You Spirit Guard tend to get into some rather… odd situations.”
“Yeah, tell me about it,” Robin snorted.
Noiko opened her mouth then paused, seemingly trying to decide if Robin literally wanted Noriko to explain the situation. “So, if I am to understand this, you didn’t go to classes because you felt like you weren’t alone in the shower?”
Robin shook her head. “No. I didn’t go to classes because I got freaked out in the shower, alone, with no one looking at me. I just wasn’t as ready for the day as I thought. I need another day.”
Noriko cocked her head to the side, “And what makes you confident you’ll be emotionally ready tomorrow? I apologize if I sound skeptical, but your situation is such an extreme I wonder how one can ever feel ‘ready’ to face the day.”
Robin shrugged, conceding Noriko’s point. “I may never be ready. Yeah. You’re not wrong there. But, I don’t know, I think tomorrow… I don’t know. I just feel like I’ll be mentally ready tomorrow.”
Noriko nodded. “Well, your past self was serenity-incarnate. I probably shouldn’t doubt your ability to cope.”
Robin leaned on the counter, curious. “You believe all this Ardent Empire sugar?”
Noriko gave a simple shrug. “The other Spirit Guard have had visions of their past lives. Kunapipi indicates it’s true. What reason would I have to doubt its veracity?”
Robin sighed. “I don’t know. Something about it just feels… off.”
Noriko gave a look that almost seemed like she was worried. Then again, it was always hard to read her. “Off how?”
Robin shrugged once more. “Don’t know. Just does. My gut I guess. Just sounds too… storybook. Maybe it’s the engineer in me but when something sounds like something a team of writers came up with, I guess I just am skeptical.”
Noriko gave a dismissive wave, slightly more expressive than usual. “Well, I’m sure once you have visions of your own it’ll feel less ‘storybook’ to you.”
This piqued Robin’s interest. The other girls had mentioned visions but no one had really discussed them in any detail. “These visions… all the other Spirit Guard have received them?”
Noriko nodded. “Yes, though they seem rather infrequent.”
“How soon after transformation?”
Noriko shrugged. “Not sure. I mean, I know Angela had hers soon after but the others haven’t really discussed their visions with me.”
Robin raised an eyebrow at that. “Why not?”
Noriko shrugged again. “I do not like to pry.”
“Don’t like to pry?” Robin scoffed. “You’re a ninja. You spied on me, Cory, Eli and I’m assuming a lot of other people. Prying is what you do.”
Noriko groaned. That was the most emotion Robin had ever seen out of her. “That was business. I do not sneak around looking for everyone’s dirty details at all hours.” Noriko tried to turn the conversation back to the visions. “But I expect you’ll get visions as well.”
“Any clue what they’ll be about?”
“Angela’s,” Noriko explained, “were all about her time, in her past life, as the Princess. We actually didn’t know all the details of the war between Platicore and the Ardent Empire back then. We definitely didn’t know about the other Spirit Guard. Apparently, between everyone’s visions we’ve been able to piece together all the important details… other than whatever it is the Third Power was.”
Robin nodded. “So when did Kunapipi put together the Hush Corps anyway? I mean, it sounds like you’ve been with Angela from the beginning.”
Noriko walked to the table and opened her bookbag. “There was some time between Platicore’s awakening and Angela becoming Spirit Guard Valor. During that time Kunapipi prepared for when Platicore made his move. I had already moved out here by the time Angela took up the mantle of Valor. The Twins joined me soon thereafter.”
Robin folded her arms. “Good thing she did so; otherwise Angela might have been exposed from the start maybe.” So Kunapipi had some heads up. Robin decided to file that away for later questioning as Noriko fished a binder out of her bag.
Noriko nodded her head. “Indeed. Though you never answered my first question… if you don’t mind me prying slightly. You used the name Blustery when you were playing that video game. I am curious; why Blustery?”
“Because Bluster was taken so I had to change it slightly. Sort of surprised Blustery wasn’t taken on the Corona Forge servers but…”
Noriko shook her head, “No, I mean, why Bluster at all? I noticed your name was Bluster in Aspect Realms when I was…” Noriko paused, trying to come up with a word that didn’t bring up the fact that she had, in fact, spied on Robert last week.
“Prying?” Robert suggested with a playful but arrogant smirk.
“I was going to say research. Regardless, why Bluster?”
Robin raised an eyebrow, “You want me to use my real name?”
Noriko stood up straight. “I’d advise against that strongly! Using your real name over the internet is…”
Robin chuckled and held her hands up to slow her down, “I know of the security risk. I’m asking what is surprising you about me using the name Bluster?”
Noriko’s body language relaxed. “Oh. Well then, I suppose it’s not a matter of surprised as much as curious. I have never much dealt with online stuff, especially video gaming, but in my… research I found an impressive and confusing variety of names. Some would be some sort of pun, innuendo, or, strangest of all, a random string of letters and numbers.”
Robin smirked. “Sounds like the internet, though what do you mean a random string of letters and numbers? I don’t think I’ve ever seen that.”
Noriko put her hands behind her back and looked up, appearing to concentrate. “For example, I remember reading an argument with someone who took exception to you killing them several times in a row. I believe they called you a ‘noob stealthing whore faggot.’ I only understand three of those four words but I’m fairly certain they don’t make sense together at all.”
Robin laughed. “Oh man! I remember that! That D3m0n51ay3r guy. Wow. What a moron.”
Noriko pursed her lips in confusion. “DemonSlayer? I think you are mistaken His name started with d-three-m-zero… and then the rest were a bunch of other random characters and numbers. I can’t remember it exactly.”
Robin shook her head and held her hands up. “No. You’re reading it wrong. Sometimes, on the internet, people can’t get the name they want because someone else already has it. They can get around it by using numbers in place of letters. So like a three will be an E, zero an O, five an S, and so on and so forth.”
Noriko squinted her eyes, “That strikes me as… stupid.”
“What is a noob anyway?”
Robin chuckled again. “Internet speak for newbie. It’s typically used as an insult. Saying someone has no skill. Sometimes it’s spelled with zeros instead of O’s. If you want to really be insulting, then you say nub instead.”
Noriko held up a finger. “But in your interaction with,” Noriko paused to let out a small sigh, “DemonSlayer, you had killed him several times in a row. By calling you a,” Noriko made finger quotes in the air, “‘noob’ isn’t he essentially insulting himself?”
Robin nodded. “Isn’t the internet a fun place?”
Noriko grimaced. “No. My short time having to go through your interactions has lead me to believe it is not a fun place. It seems to be a place where people go for entertainment yet come out angry and bitter and typing copious sexist, bigoted, and homophobic insults to try to cover for their own sense of inadequacy.”
Robin took a deep breath and sighed, “Wow, that is depressingly accurate.”
Noriko looked down at the binder she held and nodded silently. “Back to my question though, why Bluster? Why is that the name you choose?”
Robin folded her arms and leaned back. The subjects that intrigued this ninja fascinated Robin. “Why are you so curious about the name thing?”
Noriko shrugged. “We go through life with the name our parents gave us. Picking an online handle lets you pick a name that says something about you. Though I hesitate to guess what a name like D3m0n51ay3r is meant to convey about that reprobate, I’m intrigued by the idea of picking your own name.”
Robin laughed and mused, “What D3m0n51ay3r’s name says about him is that acne and middle school are being rough on him and he wants everyone else to think he’s an internet tough guy. As for me…” Robin trailed off, “well, what do you think it means?”
Noriko frowned, “Deflecting my question back at me. How evasive.”
Robin gave a conciliatory smile, “Just humor me.”
Noriko sighed but played along, “Well, the word bluster refers to speaking in an aggressive manner that has little effect. That doesn’t seem like you. You seem to have a high opinion of your skills in these games so a meaning that implies that you are having little effect likely isn’t what you’re going for unless this is some sort of ironic statement.”
Robin bit her bottom lip. High opinion of herself? Did she come across as that arrogant? “Well… you’re not wrong.”
“My only other thought is that it might be some sort of reference to wind, as in blustery. You certainly are evasive enough in personality to identify with that classical element.”
“Wow,” Robin said, “you’ve definitely thought through this more than I did.”
Noriko frowned, “How do you mean?”
“You’re right,” Robin explained. “It was a reference to just wind in general. But I actually didn’t think about what my name said about me. My Aspect Realms character is a Windwhisper.” Noriko raised an eyebrow. “Oh. Right. You don’t play the game. A Windwhisper is a type of class that focuses on stealth tactics and burst damage. Basically I play a ninja who uses wind magic to do ninja-things.”
“Ninja-things,” Noriko snorted with a tinge of amusement.
“Well, you know, in a fantasy sort of way.”
“Point is,” Robin said, “she has wind powers so I chose a name that fit that.”
“Oh.” Noriko nodded. “I guess I just assumed you were expressing yourself a bit through your name.”
Robin shook her head. “Nah, but it’s a moot point anyway,” Robin sighed. “I need to change my handle now.”
Noriko raised an eyebrow. “Why is that? Of all the things that could give away your identity I’d think your handle is the least of your concerns.”
Robin groaned, “It’s not my identity. It’s just that… you know the game I was just playing? The moment these geniuses hear my voice they start calling me Busty instead of Blustery because they rhyme and I’m a girl.”
Noriko frowned. “Busty and blustery do not rhyme.”
Robin rolled her eyes, “Close enough.”
“So, to be sure I understand, it does not bother you when someone calls you a whore or faggot but it bothers you when they say ‘busty’ instead of ‘blustery’?”
Robin really didn’t like how silly it sounded when Noriko put it like that. “It’s different. Everyone on the internet gets called a whore or faggot. That’s just dumb people who don’t know any other way to vent their frustration that doesn’t involve hurling insults with their limited vocabulary. I just… I could play games with voice chat before without incident. Now, I’m discovering that when I talk on the internet now, to some people it’s like it’s a special event.”
“How so?” Noriko asked.
“Well, okay, like, for example, that game I was just playing, Corona Forge, I played, I think, about seven matches. In three of them I got accosted by some angelcakehole the moment I opened my mouth. I didn’t say anything negative or anything like that. Just simple things like saying where I’ve seen a group of enemies go or something and suddenly the jokes start coming in.”
Noriko nodded, “And this Busty joke annoyed you the most. Is it because of your issues with your endowment?”
Robin shivered, “Let’s not use the word endowment, okay?”
“It just… please?”
Noriko shrugged, “Very well… though my question still stands.”
Robin groaned, “I don’t know.” She ran her right hand over her face and just sighed, “Maybe. Maybe I’m just overreacting to my first internet session as a chick. A different handle probably won’t change the treatment by these types of morons. They’ll just make different jokes. I guess I just don’t want to make it easy for them, you know?”
Noriko nodded. “It might be an overreaction, but it’s probably a good idea to choose a name that isn’t so easy to make sexist commentary on. At the very minimum these people aren’t likely that bright so making them reach for an insult will at the least slow them down.”
Robin smirked, “They really aren’t bright.”
Noriko stepped forward and handed Robin the binder she had been holding. “Well, perhaps this will cheer you up. This is all the documentation you’ll need for you new life.”
Robin suddenly paid a lot more attention to the binder. “Seriously? Why is it so thick?”
“The paperwork isn’t exclusively for you. Some of it might be necessary for your Uncle at some point in the future. We wanted there to be a very easy paper trail that proves Robynne Darling has always existed. The Twins took the liberty of updating things like your parent’s will, your Uncle’s guardianship papers, and other past documents that would have referred to Robert Dreese instead of Robynne Darling.”
Robin opened up the binder, “I see. Didn’t realize there were that many documents with my name on them.”
First thing Robin noticed was a driver’s licence with a photo that Robin couldn’t remember taking. She was looking into the camera with a big smile. And looked younger. And had her hair up in a ponytail. And had braces. “The honey?” She took the driver’s licence out and showed it to Noriko. “What is this?”
The barest hints of a grin curled up on Noriko’s lips. “I told Nick he was going too far but he insisted.”
“Who is Nick?”
“Nick Siekert. One of the Twins. He’s an artist. I took a quick picture of you yesterday while you weren’t looking. Nick insisted that, since you got your licence at 16, just using that picture would not be enough. Plus I think he wanted to see what he could do.”
Robin plopped down in one of the kitchen chairs, stunned at the mastery of his imaging. “How did he make me smile? Or make me look younger? And how the honey did he make braces appear on my teeth? I look…”
Noriko kept almost-grinning, “Like you would have if you had been in high school? Yes. Nick is a master at digital manipulation of photos. And fake ID’s. If you ever get pulled over only the most insanely well trained fraud experts would know that’s not a real driver’s licence.”
Robin kept staring at the image of her supposed high-school self. This was incredible. So incredible it took her a few moments to notice another detail on the driver’s licence. “Noriko… what is this?”
“What is what?”
Robin pointed to the spot on the license where her first name was. “This. Why is my name spelled like that?”
Noriko squinted, “Is there an error?”
“I’ll say,” Robin exclaimed. “Since when is Robin spelled with a y, two n’s, and a silent e at the end?”
Noriko frowned, “Kunapipi told me you chose this name because it was your grandmother’s name.”
“Yeah. I’m not going as Rob-win. I’m…” Robin trailed off. Robin came to the sudden realization she didn’t really remember Grammy’s name written down anywhere. She had barely remembered that Grammy was named Robin in the first place when Ms. Kuna had brought it up. She was just Grammy to Robin. “My grandmother didn’t spell her name like that did she?”
Noriko gave Robin the kind of slow nod normally reserved for placating a crazy person. “Yes. She did.”
A pit formed in Robin’s stomach. How was she an adult and she didn’t even know how Grammy spelled her name. Sure, Grammy died when Robert was young but it was something she should have known. She felt like a lousy grandson… or granddaughter as it were. “Oh.”
Noriko coughed, “I also don’t think you pronounce the Y in the name like a W. It’s still pronounced rob-in.”
“Yeah, I know. I just… it looks so stupid when you spell it out!”
Noriko nodded, “I share your aversion to needlessly complicating names. It seems surprisingly common over here. Made learning the language trickier with all the words that can be spelled different but sound the same.” Noriko shook her head, seemingly trying to get herself back on topic. “I was surprised when I saw the name’s spelling. I didn’t think you’d approve of a spelling that was so…” Noriko paused, searching for what, Robynne could tell, was a delicate way of putting it.
“Girly?” Robynne asked with disdain.
“I was going to say flowery or effeminate but, well, I do suppose girly fits as well.”
Robynne groaned. “Is there any way to change this? I mean, I’m all for honoring my Grammy but I have to write this the rest of my life.”
Noriko sighed, “It’d be unadvisable to change it. For one, while Will Siekert is a wizard with manipulating the local government databases, he had to do stuff at multiple state levels and the federal level for this one. I’m no expert on digital covert operations but the way he explains it you can break in once and stay safe because any tracing information they get off of you is limited to one data point. If you go in multiple times, well, I guess it’s like triangulating a signal or something like that. To borrow one of your culture’s idioms, we’d be liable to get our hands caught in the cookie jar.”
Robynne sighed and collapsed onto the couch, her blood red locks splashing around her as she landed. She immediately regretted it as she felt the slight wetness of her hair seep through her t-shirt a little bit. She sat back up with a sigh. Why did girl tshirts have to be so donut thin? “What about through legitimate channels then? Like just apply for a name change on the level.”
Noriko followed Robynne and leaned on the back of the couch. “I could ask Will but my instincts say no. We don’t want government agents snooping around your records any more than they must.”
Robynne gave another sigh, grabbed the throw pillow form the corner of the couch and held it over her face for a bit. “Yeah. You’re likely right.”
“Well, most people will never know the spelling and you are honoring your grandmother’s memory so… well… there is that.”
Robynne nodded and let go of the pillow, letting it hit the floor. “There is that.”
Noriko coughed, clearly trying to change the subject away from Robynne’s frustration over her name’s spelling. “Well, if you are changing your gamer handle, what do you think you’d change it to?”
Robynne inhaled deeply, “Not exactly sure. Never thought about it before.”
“How about Angelcakewipe?” Noriko offered.
Robynne quirked her eyebrow. “Angelcakewipe?”
Noriko shrugged, “I heard you refer to someone as an angelcakewipe as you were playing earlier. I think you were attempting to say, ‘asswipe,’ but… well, you know. I just thought it’d be an ironic name because it would be a name that only you knew was actually an intended insulting curse.”
Robynne smirked. There was more mischief in Noriko than she let on. “An interesting thought. But if I did that I think I’d go with Angelcakehole. Better ring to it. Even then, people tend to shorten long names and I don’t want anyone calling me ‘Angel’ and getting away with it.”
Noriko nodded. “Ah. Yes. Of course. We can’t just pick a name but it has to be one that isn’t easily used to hit on you or insult you.”
“That’s the general idea, yeah.”
Noriko rested her chin between her thumb and index finger. “Hmm.” The turn of the conversation was fascinating to Robynne; she never would have guessed Noriko would take such an interest in something like gamer handles. “Well, your last name was based upon the element of wind because of your character. Why not, given your newfound abilities, you base your new name on the element of water?”
“Huh. I would have thought you’d try to dissuade me from that. I mean, you’re all about stopping me from revealing myself and such.”
Noriko shook her head. “This really isn’t of concern. I of course am not suggesting you name yourself SGSerenity or… what was your attack name that you killed the monster with again?”
Robynne rolled her eyes. “Geyser of Tranquility. Really wish I could shorten it.”
“Ah, yes.” Noriko nodded. “At any rate, I’m not suggesting a name like SGSerenity or TranquilGeyser or something like that. I’m suggesting something more along the lines of… I do not know… Liquidate? Riptide?”
Robynne considered Noriko’s suggestion. “Okay. Well, not Liquidate. That has date in the name. Riptide isn’t bad, though a touch too D3m0n51lay3r for my tastes though.”
“I am not suggesting you use numbers,” Noriko said a touch defensively.
“No. I don’t mean that. I mean it just sounds like the name of someone who has to prove something.”
“Ah.” Noriko leaned back and looked up at the ceiling. “I see what you mean, now.”
“This is going in the right direction though.” Robynne mused as she joined Noriko’s ceiling-gazing. “So what do I want a name to say? Something about my interests maybe? Maybe a play on words or terms?”
“SplashZone? That feels like a term I have heard before.”
“Yeah, a splash zone is a thing but,” Robynne made a disgusted face, “no. Creepers will think of something very different with that name.”
“Must everything be sexualized?” Noriko sighed.
“It’s the internet so, basically, yeah. Though that gives me the idea of the name SplashDamage.”
“Gaming term. When you cast a spell or ability that hits a target and the area around them. The damage that happens around the target is called ‘splash damage’ because it’s like throwing a rock in some water.”
“Ah,” Noriko said with as slightly impressed tone, “that is a good way to describe it.”
“But I wouldn’t count on that name being available anywhere since it’s such a common term.”
“True,” Noriko agreed. “Then let us instead focus on what you want the name to say about you. You personally or your interests?”
“Not sure. Let’s go with interests I guess. I’m in mechanical engineering. The only water related thing I can think of off the top of my head would be the Fluid Dynamics course I have to take my junior year.”
“Yes, but, for the same reason SplashZone is a bad idea I don’t think FluidDynamics or DynamicFluid would be a good choice.”
Robynne chuckled, “Yeah, that’s a no go.”
“What about waves?” Noriko suggested. “Waves happen in water and are a property of physics you no doubt deal with somewhere in your education.”
“Waves. That’s a good idea.” Robynne smiled and bit down on her thumbnail as she thought about it more. “Really good idea in fact. Some good double meanings we could find there.” Robynne wrestled her hair from between her body and the couch and flipped the mess of tangled red behind the couch. She then settled further into her seat and rested her hands behind her head. “Waves. Okay. So what are some good wave words?”
Eli couldn’t believe the mess Club Week was creating. The courtyard was a mess of people, music, games, and free handouts as every club, frat, and sorority tried to recruit the entire student body to their ranks. Naturally, Cory had immediately set about to score as much free swag as possible, with an emphasis on food. At the moment his friend seemed to be talking to some squat but burly looking men and women accepting what looked to be some sort of candy. Normally, Eli wouldn’t have bothered with such a crowded mess of people. Not even Cory could drag him to something like this.
Kara accepted a flier from someone hocking for the Pre-Law Club. “Certainly is quite the spectacle here.”
Eli smiled like a dope. Cory couldn’t drag him to something like this, but a certain attractive bluenette could practically drag him anywhere and he’d be fine with it. “Yeah. Who knew there were so many clubs?”
Cory hurried back to the group. “Okay, I scored us some rock candy!” Eli’s friend made it a point to hand some over to Vivian first.
Eli rolled his eyes. “Do you even know what club that was?”
“I don’t know. I sort of went over, let them talk at me long enough that I got candy.” Cory shrugged. “Geology I think.”
Vivian snorted, “That was the Hiking Club, you dummy. Did you not even notice the sign?”
Cory straightened with concern. “Hiking Club? Okay, well, yeah. Me and hiking? That’s not going to happen.” Cory took a lick of the candy and smiled. “Good rock candy though.”
Vivian rolled her eyes and smiled. Eli didn’t know what to make of these events. A few days ago she was icing Cory out. Today, she seemed… she definitely wasn’t being as flirty as when she first met Cory but she wasn’t trying to get him to back off either. What had gotten her to come back around? Did Rob say something?
Eli tested his own sample of rock candy and, he had to admit, it was pretty good; though how could something composed of pure sugar not be delicious? “So, you going to join any of these clubs Cory or are you just getting all the free stuff you can?”
Cory puffed up. “I’ll probably join something. I just need something to catch my eye.”
Vivian scoffed, “Unless they give you food it doesn’t seem like they can catch your eye.”
Cory’s grin was as wide as his face. “Hey, I’m just being responsible. To not hunt for free stuff would be like throwing money away.”
Kara pointed and asked, “What’s the group over there about?” Eli scanned where she pointed and found a booth barely visible around the corner of the Billot building.
“I thought all the clubs were in this circle,” Eli mused. Something was different about the group around that booth too. Everyone else was flitting about from booth to booth; at that table everyone was staying and conversing. They all seemed to be watching something on a flatscreen, though it was impossible to make out what was on display from that distance.
Kara smiled. “Come on. Let’s go check it out.” Kara pushed some strands of hair out of her face and lead the quartet through the sea of people. Eli would have gladly followed her anywhere.
“Maybe it’s the Film Club,” Vivian offered. “I haven’t seen them in this chaos, yet.”
“Could be,” Cory agreed. “Though I’m not really sure what a college Film Club does. They show classic films?”
“Eh,” Vivian sighed, “Mostly just popular tripe that the awards show people like. But I’ve heard a lot of their members organize get togethers at some of the smaller, local theatres to see indie stuff.”
Cory perked up, “Indie stuff you say?”
Eli rolled his eyes. “Hipsters.” Kara giggled but said nothing. That only buoyed Eli’s spirits further.
The group finally escaped the bubble of the inner circle and Eli felt like he could breath. Eli’s eyes wandered from the goal and he slowed down his walk. Directly to his left was a small group of cheerleaders handing out fliers, all cheerful and standing out from the crowd with their tight green uniforms, exposed midriffs, and smooth legs. All of the cheerleaders were hot but one in particular, a leggy blonde who seemed to lead the group, had caught his…
“Enjoying the view?” Eli froze at Vivian’s question and turned around slowly.
Eli was quite relieved to hear Cory stammering, “Huh? What? Oh, I was, uh, I was just…” Vivian had been talking to Cory. Better he get in trouble than Eli.
Vivian had a smirk on that was simultaneously disappointed and amused. “Just what?”
Cory coughed, “Doesn’t, uh, you know, anyone think it’s weird the cheerleaders are here? I mean, they aren’t a club really.”
Vivian bobbed her head side to side, “Eh. Your save attempt was passable but could’ve been better if you hadn’t sputtered it out like a prop plane running out of fuel.”
Kara teasingly poked Vivian in the shoulder, “Go easy on him. Boys brains short circuit at the sight of a cheerleader. Besides, it’s not like you didn’t take advantage of wearing your cheer uniform on game days back in high school.”
Vivian threw her hair back demonstrably. Eli had to admit she looked very attractive when she did it. “Well of course I did, but you should know that as girls we are predisposed to hate cheerleaders if we aren’t one of them.” Vivian’s joking tone faded, “Plus, you know, what that biscuit did to Angela.”
Kara sighed, “Yes. That.”
Eli raised an eyebrow, “What now?”
Kara deftly changed the topic, “As for why cheerleaders are here, a lot of the frats and sororities sponsor a sports team. Like they will invite them to their parties and such as a way to both boost involvement in their group and support the team.”
Cory nodded his head, “That explains why I saw those football guys at that one booth for that frat.”
Vivian grinned. “Ah yeah. The Alpha Sigma Epsilon boys. I sure noticed them.” She turned to Kara with a conspiratorial tone to her voice. “Did you see the muscles on the magentine guy?”
Kara giggled, “I love it when magentine guys keep their hair as is and don’t dye it or anything. Love them being secure enough to just let the pink exist.”
Eli felt a tinge of jealousy. Cory pouted, “Wait a minute? We get in trouble for glancing at cheerleaders…”
Eli may have been jealous but he didn’t want to get lumped in with Cory. Some battles just weren’t worth dying for. “You got into trouble. Don’t drag me into this.”
“Whatever, you were looking at the cheerleaders too.” Eli glared at Cory for divulging that fact. “So we get in trouble for that but you two can oogle football players and that’s okay?”
Vivian rolled her eyes. “Uh, doy. Yeah. You don’t seem to understand how this double standard works.” She flashed her impish grin, “I thought you watched enough movies you’d know this by now.”
Cory pouted, “Stupid cinematic logic.”
“Hypocrite,” Eli muttered under his breath to Cory.
Kara giggled, “What I was trying to say was that if we look, I’d bet that we’d see the cheerleaders are being sponsored by some sorority and are trying to get girls to show up for some sorority pledge drive or come to some party.”
Vivian leaned to the side and examined the sign behind the cheerleader. “You’re right. Mu Nu Chi. Huh. That actually has a pretty good ring to it.”
“You thinking of joining then, Viv? Gonna be a sorority girl?” Cory teased with too much hope in his eyes.
“In your dreams,” Vivian scoffed and poked Cory hard in the chest with her finger.
Vivian raised an eyebrow, “Seriously? That hurt? Buddy, work out and get some meat on those bones!”
Cory opened his mouth to retort but nothing came out. Though Cory hid it well, Eli could see Vivian’s playful jab had actually hit a bit of a nerve some. Eli needed to change the subject to give Cory’s wounded pride a moment to recover, “So we checking out that club or not?”
Kara seemed to pick up on Eli’s attempt, “Yeah, let’s go.”
As the quartet approached the group, Eli was surprised to find the gaggle of people around the booth was nearly a solid block of dudes. There were a few girls but, sadly, it was difficult to tell from the back. The body types ranged from string beans to doughballs with very little in the middle. It reminded Eli of any Invokers card tournament he and Cory had ever gone to.
Cory piped up with excitement, “Are they playing Tour de Rock over there?”
Eli couldn’t see over the group. He cursed his lack of height. As they neared the booth though, Eli heard the springy-clicking of faux rock instruments and the classic rock music that characterized any Tour de Rock session. “I think you’re right.”
“Tour de Rock?” Vivian contorted her face. “Is that the dorky game where you fake being a rock band.”
Kara put her hands on her hips, “Hey! I like the game!”
“Me too,” Eli agreed.
Vivian nodded sagely and flashed her usual, teasing smile. “As I said, dorks.”
Eli watched a collection of nerds plinked away to the beat of the music. Most of the people were quietly waiting their turn to play the game but a few chatted with one another. Eli scanned the booth itself and saw two people manning the booth:a lanky, brown-haired guy and a short, chunky sunlock girl with glasses. The girl’s voice was enthusiastic as she chatted up some of the visitors. “-not either of ours. The equipment actually belongs to our President. He’s big into Tour de Rock. Buys all the DLC and such.”
The lanky guy nodded. “Yeah, and he’s awesome enough to lend his equipment.”
The blond guy they were talking to gave a forced over-laugh that made Eli wince. It was the kind of laugh you only give if you were socially awkward and weren’t quite sure how to let everyone else know you were amused. “Wow. Yeah, he sounds cool.”
Cory didn’t let the over-laugher’s awkwardness phase him; he confidently moved forward to the front of the booth. “Chintzy setup he has. What is this club exactly?”
The girl’s eyes lit up with excitement. Eli could already tell that whatever this club was, this sunlock girl was a true believer in the club’s cause. “We, my good man, are Spheres!”
Vivian walked up behind Cory with a bemused face. “Spheres? You’re a club that celebrates round objects?”
“Uh, well, uh…” The lanky guy stammered, obviously not ready for a cute girl with a quick tongue to approach their group. Clearly he wasn’t as well versed in recruiting as the girl. “No. We aren’t round object enthusiasts. We are, uh…”
The girl rolled her eyes in a manner that reminded Eli of Mallory. “It’s an acronym.” She gestured to the front of the booth. Eli glanced down and splayed across the length of a the table was a banner that spelled out ‘SFEERS’ in a blue, futuristic font. “It stands for the Science-fiction, Fantasy, and Electronic Entertainment Research Society.”
Cory nodded his head back and forth, “Shouldn’t there be two F’s in the acronym then? One for Fiction and one for Fantasy?”
Vivian grinned wider and joined in with Cory’s mild teasing, “I think you’re right. Seems a little slipshod.”
Kara and Eli exchanged looks of exasperated amusement. Kara stepped forward, “Ignore my mischievous friends. I think it sounds great.”
The bespectacled girl shrugged, “Eh, the club was founded two decades ago by someone who, apparently, really wanted the acronym to spell something while not sounding like all we do is read books, watch movies, and play games. We just stick with Spheres for convenience.”
The lanky guy seemed to regain some of his composure, “Though some call us ‘Nerd Club’ for simplicity… or sometimes as an intended insult. Though it’s not something we really run from.” Eli nodded. He already was liking the cut of this club’s jib.
The girl extended her hand to shake Kara’s, “Name’s ergoAwesome. What’s yours?”
Kara shook her hand but squinted, “Uh, Kara… I’m sorry. Your name is ergoAwesome?”
Eli stepped up, eager to show Kara that he knew what was going on here. “You all go by your handles in Spheres?”
The guy nodded and shifted about nervously. “Well, we conduct most of our club business online so everyone sort mostly gets used to handles rather than actual names. You can call me Zemiron… or Jeff. Either way I’m cool.”
Vivian nodded with amusement. “So a bunch of code names. Neat. But what do you guys do in Nerd Club exactly?”
ergoAwesome took a deep breath and flashed a grin that Eli could swear was wider than Vivian’s most mischievous smile. “What don’t we do? We have several weekly activities! I myself am the club’s Writing Officer and hold a weekly writing group where members get together and discuss whatever projects they are currently working on. We also have a weekly anime watching group, book group, board gaming…” ergoAwesome trailed off and pointed to Zemiron, “The board gaming group is all Zemiron’s brainchild over here.”
Zemiron scratched the back of his head and looked a little embarrassed. “I wouldn’t say it was my brainchild. But we do meet every Tuesday night in the mezzanine of the Billot Building and just play whatever board games people bring.” He cleared his throat, obviously uncomfortable with having to speak to random strangers. “Though uh, well, we also have several pen and paper RPG groups if that’s more your thing.”
Eli noticed a few boys who had been watching the game were now nervously checking out Kara and Vivian. Eli smirked and inched a bit closer to Kara. He knew it was stupid but there was some primal joy he derived in “marking his territory” in front of other guys. “Would your board game night have anyone playing Invokers?”
Zemiron’s eyes lit up and all hints of nervousness left. “Oh yeah. I mean, well, a few of the people who were playing it with us graduated last year but I’m pretty sure there will still be plenty of people bringing their decks. I myself have a Yellow Tax deck I have been meaning to test out. I was actually hoping to run a few tournaments for the club this year if you’re interested.”
Eli grinned. This Spheres group was really starting to interest him. “I’d say Cory and I are interested. Invokers is our poison for sure. Though, Yellow? Seriously? I’m not sure if I can be your friend if you play a Yellow deck.”
Zemiron laughed. “You play Purple I’m assume?”
“Indeed he does.” Cory agreed. “I’m a Grey player myself though. Love infinitely spawning creeps.” Vivian yawned and Eli realized the particulars of Invokers weren’t going to be of any interest to the girls. They needed to change the conversation.
“Now, I assume that,” Eli nodded his head towards the group playing Tour de Rock, “this is not your only offering of electronic entertainment? I mean, you put Electronic Entertainment in your acronym so I assume there is more?”
ergoAwesome practically jumped with excitement, “Oh hells no! We have a lot of gaming stuff. I mean, it’s not as well organized as Zemiron’s board game group but gaming falls under the purview of our Video Gaming Officer, SaltStorm. We have a lot of people who are really big into Corona Forge. There is actually a group of four that play that competitively in tournies across the state, including our President and his brother.”
Cory let out a low whistle. “Seriously? Geeze, they might be too hardcore for us, Eli.”
Eli shrugged, “We’ll see.” Eli tried to hide his arrogance but he had been the best Corona Forge player at his high school. He’d wait to see how good these competitive player were. Then a thought occurred to Eli, “What about Aspect Realms? Do you guys have an Aspect Realms group?”
ergoAwesome let out a laugh, “Do we ever! That’s probably the most active group we have on a day-to-day basis.” She pointed two thumbs at herself. “You’re looking at a level seventy Gargoyle Cloudmender here. Do you play?”
Eli shook his head. Gargoyle Cloudmender? He really had no idea what went on in that game, “No, but we have a friend who is heavy into it. Like, super heavy.”
Kara’s entire face brightened. “That is the game Robynne plays, isn’t it?”
Vivian nodded, “We’ll have to drag her here to see this booth.”
ergoAwesome’s smile somehow widened further. “Another girl? Finally! I’m tired of me and GalleyGirl being the only girls in the guild.”
Kara nodded, “I think Robynne would like that as well.”
Zemiron tried to push forward a sign-sheet with a clipboard. “So do you all want to sign up? I mean, nothing is official until you sign up on our club website itself but this gets you signed up for the newsletter to let you know about what events are going on.”
Cory happily snatched up the sign-up sheet. “There any dues?”
“Ten dollars a person per semester. We use it to throw our opening and closing socials.”
“Mostly to pay for pizza,” ergoAwesome giggled.
Cory nodded, “Money well spent then!” He quickly started writing his information. “Well, I, CannedBurrito, am happy to lend my aid!”
“CannedBurrito?” VIvian chortled.
Cory nodded enthusiastically, “It’s been my handle since middle school.”
Vivian laughed harder, “You’re so weird.”
ergoAwesome leaned forward on the table and looked Vivian in the eyes. “So you signing up then?”
Vivian shook her head, “Not sure this is really my thing. I might show up to a few anime nights though.”
“Come onnnn! You know you want to.”
Eli didn’t know what to make of this ergoAwesome girl. On one hand, she was kind of pushy. On the other hand, she wasn’t that attractive but still surged forward with confidence. It was hard for her enthusiasm not to rub off on you a little.
Vivian shook her head. “Tempting, but I’ll have to pass.”
Kara took the clipboard from Cory. “I think I’ll join. Though I don’t have a code name yet. Is that a problem?”
Vivian straightened. “You’re joining, Kara? The only game you ever play is that dancing one.”
Kara shrugged, “I could branch out.” She smiled meekly, “Plus, I kind of have a feeling Robynne will be joining this club too so…”
Vivian nodded, “Ah. I see.” She looked back down at her shoes and sighed, “Well, when you put it that way, I guess I probably should join as well. Someone has to keep an eye on her to keep her from breaking all the nerd boys’ hearts.”
Kara rolled her eyes, “Oh stop it, Viv.”
Zemiron cleared his voice, and tried to answer Kara’s original question, though Eli could tell he was now curious about this breaking of hearts business. “You don’t need a handle yet.” He stressed the word handle, as if Kara calling it a code name made him feel awkward. “You won’t need that until you sign up online.”
“Oh good,” Kara said with a chipper tone. Eli could see even more heads examining her. “I’ll have to come up with one.”
Vivian took the signup sheet from Kara. As she wrote down her information Eli smiled at Kara, “It’s really nice of you to think of Rob like that.” Liking Hop Dance Mania was a good gateway to gaming but Eli figured Kara had very little actual interest in a “nerd club” outside of being there for Rob.
Kara shrugged nonchalantly but Eli could see the hint of a blush, “Oh, well, I think anyone would do it for her given her… situation.”
“Plus,” Vivian said handed the sign-up sheet to Eli, “someone has to keep an eye on CannedBurrito over here.”
Cory stood up straight, trying to sound and look as regal as possibly, “M’lady I get the sense that you are besmirching my honor!”
Vivian touched her hand to her breast in shock, “Why, Lord CannedBurrito! How couldst thou assume such a thing when thou hast a most noble name.”
ergoAwesome smiled and leaned over to Zemiron, “I think they’ll fit in just fine.”
Kara chuckled and turned to Eli, “You think Robynne will like this club?”
Eli nodded, “First thing I’ll do is convince her to join. It’s right up her alley. I guarantee it.”
And now we are getting to the stuff that’s fun!
I feel it was important that Robynne not go to school the first chance she got. I know I’d need a lot more time than she’s taking after such an insane adjustment but, even for the avatar of Serenity, some alone time is needed.
I, sadly, based Robynne’s gaming interaction on interactions that I’ve personally seen and ones that I’ve seen on the internet. It depresses me how stupid some games are when it comes to girls and gaming. I’m not some big gaming social crusader but the fact that I can hear these things go on without the voices belonging to 14 year old boys is, perhaps, what is the most depressing. There are men who think this kind of behavior is okay. And that’s depressing.
What is encouraging is when these morons get ganged up on and I wanted to show that side. True, it took someone else saying something first, but that’s life in general. I feel most people want to do the right thing but just need a leader to step up to let them know that, “no, you’re not the weird one. They are.”
Noriko was fun to write this chapter. As a master of stealth and stabbing, wandering into Robynne’s world of stats and screennames would be something I think she’d take interest in. Gamer-world is a completely different culture. I myself have always been a little obsessed with screennames and handles and why people choose them. I suppose I just project that curiosity onto Noriko. But that’s the fun part of being the author… I can do that 😛
I don’t know what clubs were like at your colleges but the scene played out with Vivian/Eli/Cory/Kara (hereto after known simply as VECK) was what happened at my college. One week, early in the semester, they’d get all the clubs together in one spot and have a big spectacle geared towards getting people showing up and getting involved in some social group or another. It was always a madhouse but in a good way. I found a lot of the people who get isolated at college probably had a club they would have found themselves really fitting in with had they but known it was there. These types of activities made it hard to miss.
Also, I had way too much fun coming up with Spheres and all their members of import. I made a list of 26 names (each starting with a different letter) and tried to get a different “feeling” name with each one. Again, I went back to my old college club, started combing through names, and noticed a few trends. One thing I noticed… a lot of people have names that reference food. Humans like to eat. But most names fell under five categories with a sixth category that some gamers outside of my club have- intimidating names, silly names, wordplay names, fantasy names, hobby names, and sexually themed names. I feel I showed all kinds of those names this chapter. Intimidating- D3m0n51ay3r, silly-ergoAwesome and CannedBurrito, wordplay-Fretribution, fantasy-Zemiron, hobby-a lot of Robynne’s suggestions, and sexual-PwnTang827
Also, stylistically, a lot of screennames start with purposeful lowercase letters like ergoAwesome. My word processor hates it when I start sentences off with lowercase e’s.
Before I let you all go (because I am holding you all hostage… clearly) I just wanted to give a special shout out to my $10+ patrons who really stepped up this chapter. My usual editor had to head out of town and, thus, could not edit. As they have access to the chapter as I’m writing I asked them if they could proof read stuff for me and make sure everything was staying cohesive. And boy howdy did they step up! Thanks so much everybody! In my hour of need your rose to the challenge! Hurrah!
SaltStorm is the best screenname I’ve come up with,