Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Clan Dominance: The Sleepless Ones by Dem Michailov

Clan Dominance: The Sleepless Ones
by Dem Michailov

Release - March 5, 2020
Pre-order - https://www.amazon.com/dp/B082J7P2X2

The series is a joint project of Magic Dome Books and 1C-Publishing

Chapter One
Anything to Stay! Your Gaming Session Has Been Terminated Unexpectedly.
The bright flash before my eyes made me squeeze my eyes shut. When I opened my eyelids again, I saw an iridescent vortex spinning slowly. I exhaled, frustrated, and shut my eyes again without waiting for another vertiginous moment of nausea. My bandwidth is way too low. The equipment is rather outdated, too. Hence the long few minutes of waiting for the server to identify me, check the medical sensor data, and apply the matrix.
I waited for another minute before opening my eyes; I was relieved to discover myself staring right at a nondescript gray brick wall. Finally.  I stretched, clenched and unclenched my fists a few times, and shook my head.

Everything seemed to be just fine.
A near-transparent message popped up before my eyes, accompanied by a pleasant ringing. It kept getting whiter and more opaque with every second.
The World of WALDYRA is happy to have you with us!
There are over seven million of us now . . .
I winced, annoyed, as I shut the greeting I'd already been sick to death of, and looked around myself, having taken a few steps back away from the wall. I was in a tiny room, nine feet by nine, with a regular wooden door with a ball-shaped copper handle in the opposite wall. The ceiling was low and made of stone, without anything resembling a window. There was absolutely nothing on the walls—not a single painting, or etching, or indeed any other sentimental object to decorate them. The situation with furniture was similar—there was none.
A pile of stuff lay in the far corner next to the door, with a torn cape thrown over it haphazardly for the sake of appearances. It contained the bare necessities—a meager supply of decent mana and HP potions, a few specific elixirs boosting certain stats temporarily, and a small set of reserve armor and equipment. I had some gold and silver in the city bank; their nearest branch was located right across the city square. That was that. Those were all the things I needed to play comfortably. I hardly ever appeared in my private room—that would normally happen whenever I would log into the game or log out.
Apart from that, my in-game bank account kept growing, so there was no reason to lament the Spartan decor and the lack of comforts in my Private Room. That was my personal space—my gateway to the boundless world of Waldyra so very long ago. Oh yes, a lot of time has passed since then . . . and all of it would end very shortly.
My game account was of the lowest class—Wooden. Such account would often be derisively referred to as "logs," and their owners were known as "Pinocchios." The class suited my needs just fine, but all good things come to an end. The only way of staving it off was to keep paying hard-earned cash for playing. Once the last cent on the account would run out, a scarlet red message saying ACCOUNT BLOCKED would flash before my eyes, and I would immediately find myself flung back into the real world.
I had no way of topping up my account. I simply had no money. My company had gotten bankrupt all of a sudden, with all of the staff, including yours truly, getting the axe. I ended up flat broke. Speak of double trouble. I lost my job and my favorite hobby in one fell swoop of fate. A two-pronged attack targeting my most vulnerable spots, if you will.  I was technically entitled to some severance package—half a month's salary and basic social coverage—but clawing that out of a bankrupt company would be a challenge taking more time than I had. The boss disappeared without a trace, and it is said that he had taken all the remaining liquid company assets with him. He must be sitting in a comfy lounge chair somewhere on an ocean beach and savoring his tropical cocktail . . . the bastard!
I drew a deep sigh, thought for a moment, my eyes boring the alluring door like gimlets. It led to a world of incredible adventure, wild passion, and mortal danger. It drew me like a magnet.
However, I had to hold my impulses in check. The first thing I did was activate the control interface. I went through a couple of menus, barely moving my index finger, found the necessary option and called out the timer counting out the hours and minutes I'd had left in the game dispassionately, pinning it to my main "screen."
The numbers were anything but reassuring.
I dwelt on this for a while, and then decided to color the constantly changing numbers bright red and place them in the upper left corner so that they would always be in my field of vision. Now I could see the remaining time whenever I'd look to the side.
A warning message popped up before my eyes.
We are obliged to inform you that visible interface elements interfere with complete immersion into the world of Waldyra.
I chuckled bitterly, dismissing the message. It sure does interfere. However, I wouldn't want to become a laughing stock for other players by missing the right moment and getting thrown out of the game in the middle of a conversation. So I should somehow manage without "complete immersion." I wouldn't be able to cite a sudden blackout or a network problem as an excuse. Every cocoon had an autonomous power supply with enough juice to finish the longest battle, let alone wrap up a conversation or reach a safe location. Then you could press the Exit button in peace. Network errors were extremely rare. Game cocoons were linked to the main server as nodes of a single network independent from the Internet or the local ISPs. Glitches in their work were extremely uncommon.
I am a quiet type normally, and I prefer action to talking to other players. What was the point of idle chitchat, anyway? You could talk IRL, after all. What had drawn me to Waldyra in the first place was adventure—battles against monsters and the exploration of unchartered territories. That was the very reason why I had chosen the Ranger Archer class.
However, this time I had only intended to talk. Not a step outside the city. Today I had to do absolutely everything within my power to scrape up enough funds for yet another week of fees for my Wooden account. And that would require precisely that which I had tried to keep to a minimum—namely, communication. I would have to talk to vendors and fighters looking for quality weapons, armor, or accessories. Basically, I had to sell all the junk gathering dust in the corner of my room for "real" money. Should I fail to succeed immediately, my only remaining option would be to auction the stuff, but in that case I'd have to wait for 24 hours at least—a whole day. I would therefore have to log out and use a simple monitor app to track the sales.
Just a week. That was all the time I'd have to horse around. A small vacation before I'd be forced to hunt for yet another job. Well, why not? I was single and lived on my own, after all. The fridge of my one-room apartment was chock full of cheap but filling food. My rent and my Internet bills had been paid for a month in advance. So all I wanted now was a little entertainment. Absolute immersion into the game with a bare minimum of logging out. An endless whirlwind of events and adventures.
I could go hunting orcs at the Black Ridge—my level would suffice for that. Another option was to take a trip to the faraway coast of the Southern Sea where I could admire their unique sunsets with both suns dipping under the horizon at once. Those lucky enough to have seen this sight claim it to be one of the world's greatest wonders. I could save on teleportation scrolls, so it would take five days tops to get there. I could accept easy quests from the locals en route . . . a gamer's dream and no mistake.
Anyway, I wouldn't be short of activities the coming week. Provided I managed to scrape up enough to pay for my account, obviously.
I scrutinized my tiny room, regretting the fact that I had never bothered about investing so much as a cent into the decor of my Private Room. I could have sold it to some greenhorn player lock, stock, and barrel for half the price now. However, back in the day when I was relatively comfortable financially, I used to spend all the gold I would earn in the game on boosting elixirs, stronger armor, and better weapons. My class was another thing—it was of the "pure" variety, regarded as suited for nobility and the new rich players. I had never bothered to learn a craft. Not that there had ever been a shortage of NPCs eager to teach me their skills—I could have become a lumberjack or a miner, after all . . .
But the prospect of chipping away at rocks with a pickax in hopes of finding a gold nugget or an uncut gem had always bored me to tears. Ditto prancing around swinging an ax and singing I'm OK. So that's what I ended up with. I never could have guessed the game would become so addictive and turn from a hobby to what technically amounted to my main occupation.
There was also the fact that the NPCs (or the locals, as we all call them) only gave you basic-level skills, and you'd have to be really naive to think you'd automatically start raking in the money. What you could expect is that your pickax would break less frequently and that you might find precious metals a teensy-weensy bit more often . . . That was that. You'd need to hone your skills day and night to achieve anything more. As in putting all your elbow grease into that ax or pickax from dawn till dusk. Not that there was any shortage of those who'd enjoyed it. Those were the so-called Socials—players who'd rather spend their times on crafts, trade, and the like. This class of player needed no bread or spectacles. However, they'd sell their souls for a rich precious ore vein, a few bundles of elven silk, or a mithril pickax with inlays.
The thought of making a long-distance call to my parents and ask for some financial assistance for their prodigal son left my head the instance it popped up. That would be an exercise in futility. My mother would get stress, and my father would start calling me every hour demanding my immediate return to the family domicile where he would instantly find a fitting job for the apple of his eye (yours truly, that is). Now, how did that saying go? "You don't raise sons, you raise heroes?" Nah . . . I'll paddle out on my own somehow.
One small step for me, one giant leap across the room. Then I started to stuff everything I had into my backpack. Why everything? Why wouldn't I cherry-pick? Well, I'd probably break down and cry seeing myself put away the Gray Archer's bow that I had obtained with so much effort—a weapon with excellent stats, accompanied by a quiver capable of repairing broken arrows on its own, as well as a number of other items, each of which had had sentimental value. In other words, I had a near-terminal case of unwillingness to part with my property. 
The last items were a bunch of potions that clinked dully as I put them away. Nothing remained in the room but dust. I'd have collected that, as well, given a chance someone would buy it.
I put on the backpack—its size remained the same, and the answer to "how" is always "magic" in such cases—and started towards the door, throwing a glance at the relentless timer involuntarily.
I'd have to hurry.
The door clicked shut softly, and I set off making no sound whatsoever. Ah, the silent steps of a true ranger. I may have perambulated as quietly as any elephant IRL, but here in Waldyra I was but a silent ghost. The ideal scout. The best players with a similar character class and beefed-up skills can break dance on broken glass without a single shard making a sound.
There was no need to bother about locking the door—no one but me would have managed to get in, anyway. The only way another player can enter my Private Room is if I invite them. Also, there was no point worrying about a completely empty room.
I dashed downstairs to find myself in a spacious hall with oak-paneled walls and a wide open door leading outside just across.
There were paintings and embroideries on the walls with scenes of hunting and battles against monsters. Every scene was based on a real event, immortalizing the players' achievements and valiant deeds as described in the captions on diligently-polished copper plaques underneath. The polishing was done manually, by the way—by the "local" workers keeping things clean and orderly with the utmost diligence. There were all sorts of achievements—not all of them had to be battle-related.
"Sir Lancelot fights a red dragon single-handedly," read one. The picture portrayed a warrior with unnaturally wide shoulders, clad in a suit of armor, fearlessly attacking a fire-breathing spiky lizard-like beast with a sword raised over his head. Oddly enough, nothing was said about the outcome of the fight. I could attack a red dragon single-handedly too—I just might be foolish enough. But what would be the result of such a battle? The dragon would probably get its breakfast.
"Twain the Canny makes the first 100K deal in the history of Waldyra." The caption was underneath a portrait for a puffy-cheeked chubby fellow smiling from behind a table laden with gold. The player had obviously chosen the path of a trader. Their kind never have to worry about paying their fees . . . but isn't that boring? On the other hand, different strokes for different folks. It might be his vocation, after all.
"The foundation of the very first clan in the history of Waldyra!" There are ten players of different classes standing in the yard of a small castle and swearing their allegiance to the clan with their hands held out in front of them. The clan in question was the Architects—one of the most powerful ones.
"Kraken the Silent slays the Orcish warlord with a single arrow." There's an archer standing on one knee and about to let loose an arrow from a disproportionately large crossbow. I'd spent a lot of time studying this picture, awash in jealousy for a luckier player who'd managed to get his name written into the chronicles of Waldyra. On the other hand, if I had a crossbow like that, all covered in boosting runes, I would also have killed an orc with a single arrow, from any distance . . . probably . . . Anyway, I never liked crossbows much, relying on longbows most of the time. And just to consider his nickname. "Silent" Kraken, my foot! Some people just have no imagination, brother!
Right, and what do have here?
Oh, yeah, a really "ancient" painting that's been here for quite a while.
"The Galesian Ichtyander reaches the bottom of the Quanton Trench." All you can see on the painting is a blurry silhouette of a diver hanging upside down, visibly tense, and touching the rocky bottom with the very tips of his fingers against an almost completely black background of the deeper ocean reaches. The Quanton Trench is over ten miles deep, if memory serves. There's no way anyone could dive that deep IRL. You could only do it in Waldyra, and only if your character belonged to the underwater race. Otherwise the pressure will squash you flat. Incidentally, rumors have it that even though Ichtyander had managed to reach the bottom, he never made it back up, ending up as a snack for the creatures of the deep, record breaker or not. Those creatures are enormous—and always ravenous. Jeepers . . .
There were paintings everywhere. Starting with the level of one's chest and rising all the way up to the ceiling. The first clan castle built, and the first player to have amassed a fortune of a million golden pieces. Once again, Twain the Canny was the one who had received the achievement. Speak of shrewd merchants . . .
I took a short look at the paintings and hurried towards the door, nodding to the girl behind the semicircular counter who had wished me a good morning. She wasn't a player, but rather an AI-controlled NPC capable of self-education. That was one of the gimmicks that gave Waldyra its charm and verisimilitude.
"May luck shine over you today, Mr. Khrushchot!" the girl added with barely traceable notes of ennui in her voice, which was the epitome of courteousness otherwise. 
The poor thing must be really bored here. Not a soul to talk to. Players would just dash back and forth minding their own business, and the girl hardly got any chance to converse to anyone.
On the other hand, perhaps she wasn't as bored as all that. My cursory glance scanned a cheap necklace made of blue beads on her neck. Low-ranking "locals" never wore any jewelry—that was one of the game's features. Still, any player could give an NPC a ring, a necklace, or a chain as a present. A piece of jewelry worn on the neck implied that this doubtlessly beautiful woman created by a talented designer had an adorer—one of the players paying her a visit every now and then. And those visits must have entailed something other than small talk.
The game's ranking spoke for itself—it was 18+, and enforced zealously. No children or teenagers were allowed anywhere near a full-immersion experience of this sort. One could even get married, buy an orchard, and enjoy all the advantages of a quiet family life, given the inclination. Or, perhaps, one could opt for the none-too-quiet option—one would normally choose a partner according to one's tastes, after all. Many players did just that. After all, few things are as pleasant as to be welcomed by a gorgeous spouse first thing upon returning from yet another heroic quest.
The marketplace greeted me with a deafening din. You could always expect to see a few hundred players here, half of whom were traders, always ready and willing to sell you whatever they may have found across the vastness of the world of Waldyra or made themselves for a maximum profit. Others wished to purchase what they were selling as cheaply as they could. Every party would haggle zealously and very loudly. I couldn't hear a single word for the noise the first time I came here. It was much easier now, though. I must have gotten used to it all—the loud haggling, the milling crowds, and the thieves dashing to and fro all the time.
"Rings with semiprecious gemstones! A substantial boost to your mana! Just two left! Level 10 and up!"
"Shirts! Linen shirts! Get two beautiful shirts for just a single silver piece!"
"Giant crab shells! Whole and powdered! Just what an alchemist needs!"
"Hot food! Hot food!"
"I'm selling all my stuff! Level 20! Make your offers!"
"All your lighting needs covered! Glowballs! Magic headlamps! Glowing necklaces and belts! Just two camp post with simplified activation left! One is charged with daylight, and the other, with regular light! Affordable! We can make a deal!"
Posts were stationary lighting devices resembling, well . . . pillars or posts, I suppose. Hence the name. What else do you call a brightly-glowing cylinder five feet tall? So that was the name the players chose. Everything was perfectly clear to anyone with a passing acquaintance with Waldyra slang. Daylight was the same as sunlight. It provided perfect lighting as well as protection from any creature shunning the sun. Glowballs were another lighting device. The player's bread and butter must have come from making and selling lighting equipment.
"I'll fix your weapons and armor free of charge! Absolutely free! No guarantees on the result, though!"
"Charmed wooden flasks! Extra capacity! You won't regret it!"
"Pelts! Really cheap hare pelts! I have hare eyes, too, for those who want them! Seventeen altogether!"
"Eight silver-plated buttons for sale! Tailors! Get them quick! These are one-off pieces! Look at how beautiful they are!"
Buyers would usually walk around in silence, scrutinizing everything with feigned indifference and taking their time raking through the items on sale. There was a reason why this spontaneous market came into existence here—there was a fountain with clean water nearby that could be used by anyone for drinking or filling one's flasks, a hotel right nearby, and an auction where any player could sell any rare item they had just some twenty paces away. That's where I headed, ignoring the throngs and the admiring sighs of jealous greenhorn eating my equipment with their eyes.
There was a semitransparent veil in front of the auction, and you had to pass through to get in. That was just what I did. I took a step and the veil became thicker, examining me, and dispersing instantly in an invitation to come inside. The magical veil did not let any player with a level under 15 get involved in any trade, returning them to the square instantly with a light slap on the back and a whispered "Grow up first, kid."
I decided against ascending the broad granite staircase leading inside the building. Instead, I headed left. There were over a dozen of players hanging out next to a wall, all of them of different classes and races.
That motley crew of chatty traders was my destination. They were the unofficial "black" auction. The prices they offered were much lower, but they paid up at once. That's where anyone would go if they needed to get rid of their wares quickly and get paid in real money rather than the game's own gold-based currency.
The sheer variety of buyers was mind-boggling. There were elves, dwarves, humans, drow, half-orcs, and even achylotes—I certainly didn't expect to see any of their ilk here. Well, there was only one of them, really, and he'd been doing just fine for someone who'd needed gills to breathe. On the other hand, why wouldn't he, with an aquarium like his? The achylote player didn't move much, suspended as he was inside an enormous bubble of sea water placed right on the paving and looking extremely flimsy. You didn't encounter too many underwater beings in this city—it may not have been built in the middle of the desert, but it lay just on its fringe.
I remember my amazement when I first learned about the existence of a strictly underwater race of players in Waldyra. There were actual underwater towns and villages—as well as caves, and, obviously, monsters. However, I did not choose the achylote race, my curiosity notwithstanding, even though they had a large number of available classes. It just didn't feel like my kind of thing. Apart from that, I prefer to stand on my own two feet—spending most of the game in a suspended state would be bothersome. It would be like living in a zero-gravity environment.
I barely managed to open my mouth when a tall half-orc approached me, nodding at my backpack and asking me in a guttural voice,
"Got anything for sale?"
"I have," I said, taking off my backpack nonchalantly. "But I'm not selling it cheap. It's one-off stuff. Some of it is technically rare!"
The half-orc grunted derisively. Well, the fanged warrior had every right to, given the quality of his equipment. His silver coat of mail emitted a soft glow and was covered with an intricate runic pattern, with pauldrons, bracers, and greaves to match. A full set, no less—with all the stat bonuses it entails. There was a black silk shirt underneath the armor. The half-orc's hands were covered by gauntlets, but I was certain he'd had a magic ring on every finger and a few protective charms around his neck. And I didn't even mention his full-metal boots. His entire presence emitted a powerful magical aura—his every garment and piece of armor were steeped in it. Few could have taken out someone like him—although I could have given it a try, at night and on a rough terrain.
The buyer made sure he'd made an impression, and grunted lazily,
"Gold or real money?"
"Real money!" I blurted out, opening my pack at once. "I don't need gold."
I instantly called myself a moron as I saw a glint in the half-orc's eyes. It was clear to him I was in dire need of money. What a mark I am. Feigned indifference was never my strong suit.
The warrior grabbed my backpack casually and started to rife through it, occasionally emitting a grunt or a clucking noise that could have meant anything. It didn't take him long to appraise the goods I'd hoarded painstakingly over the years. He named his price almost instantly.
"Fifty bucks for everything, including the pack. I could throw in another five, and that's that."
"You must be kidding . . ." I uttered dejectedly. "I'd get three times as much at the auction. How about a hundred? Everything is in perfect condition—no repairs needed."
"You won't," the half-orc shook his head with a thick mop of black hair. "I'm sure of it. The auction house will give you seventy-five, eighty bucks tops. That's it. See for yourself. You just have the basic stuff here—no runes, no rare items, no set items . . . All your stuff will go right to the next leveling-up recruit eager to let it go to waste due to lack of skill and experience."
"Does it make any difference?" the warrior grunted, with some chagrin in his voice this time. "Anyway, as I've been telling you, there's nothing particularly valuable here. With the possible exception of the bow and a couple of throwing knives. The rest is just bulk. I'm only buying it because it's in perfect repair. Anyway, I can give you fifty-five bucks right away—just give me your account number. If you don't trust me, ask the others, I don't care."
I pondered this for a moment, then made a sullen dismissive gesture and agreed with his price. The half-orc had no reason to lie. There wasn't anything unique in the backpack, after all. Just a bunch of quality items and weapons.
"All right, then," the half-orc roared, showing off an impressive set of fangs. "By the way, the bow you have dangling on your back . . . I'd buy it for twenty right away. If you throw in your belt as well, there'll be another tenner in it for you. So, what do you say?"
"My bow?" I exhaled sharply, turning my head to take a look at the weapon behind my shoulder. "No way . . . I could have parted with the belt . . ."
"Your call. I'm just here to make an offer."
"Oh, screw it," I grunted, resolutely removing the bow and the shoulder-belt and handing it to the trader. "It's yours."
"Can't scrape up enough for your daily fix, eh?" the warrior squinted somewhat mockingly as he grabbed my weapon and stuffed it into his backpack.
"Got it in one," I said morosely as I tore the belt off my waist. It gave a great boost to Agility, and a 5% bonus to Stealth. A dream belt, in other words. And there I was parting with it . . . for a measly ten bucks. Well, what was I to do? Keep the belt and proudly log off?
"Give me your account number. Or your e-wallet number, whatever.  Chef's choice."
"E-wallet," I replied, telling him the number I'd had memorized.
"Hold on," the half-orc grunted, shutting his grayish-green eyelids and looking meditative for a moment.
I saw his ember eyes stare at me shortly afterwards.
"It's done. The money's been wired. If you come across any other worthy stuff, DM me at once. I'm here most of the time. The nickname is Gray Boar. Got it?"
"Sure," I nodded. Then I asked him, "Hey, but how did you manage to wire the money? You didn't even log out . . ."
"Why would I? Oh, hold on a second . . . You come from the glorious Pinocchio stock, right? A Wooden account?"
"Well, yeah . . ."
"Well, nothing. The account you choose decides everything. Anyway, good lock. Drop by whenever you come by anything good."
Gray Boar nodded me goodbye and retreated lazily, waving my backpack around in a careless manner. Where did that leave me? Out of weapons and equipment, but with eighty-five bucks on my account. Provided that the half-orc trader made no mistakes and wasn't planning to rip me off, of course.
Once I parted the magical veil again, I sat down on a sun-warmed bench next to a fountain with a dozen jets of water shooting up and hastened to leave the game. There was a twinkling and a flash, and I was staring at the iridescent whirlwind again. Then came darkness.
I tore the helmet away from my head, opened the cocoon's semitransparent lid, and pulled the computer monitor installed on a mobile console without getting up. I was online, anyway, so it didn't take long to check my electronic payment system.
The Boar had told the truth. I received a transfer of eighty-five dollars and one cent. One cent, really! The guy should try the local stand-up circuit; he'd be a barrel of laugh with his displays of lavish generosity. Given that I'd already had seventeen dollars on my account, I was now a proud owner of 102 dollars, proudly ignoring that measly copper.
A weekly fee for the cheapest (Wooden) account was exactly sixty-five bucks. Not exactly the cheapest entertainment available on the market. Basically, I was set—I'd just received enough to pay for a week in advance. Seven days of pure unadulterated joy in the world of Waldyra. Damn . . . I shouldn't have hurried with selling my favorite bow. On the other hand, that was when an insidious thought crept into my head. Just another twenty-three dollars would buy me a whopping two weeks of playing. Two whole weeks! I should have just about enough food in the fridge . . . it seemed like an enticing prospect. I didn't really want to borrow—on the other hand, I didn't need much, either. But where would I get the remaining money?
Relatives were definitely a no-no. Ditto neighbors. Not that I was on good terms with any of them, anyway, with the exception of Vassily—resident of the first floor, a hard worker with magic hands who could fix anything, and a former power lifter to boot. Or, rather, he'd been one before his wife left him. Since then, he'd been drinking regularly, and those crafty hands of his became two shaking claws of an alcoholic. If anything, he'd ask to borrow some money off me the instant he'd see my mug. So, a non-option there as well . . .
Where did that leave me?
Having pondered this for a few more minutes, I made myself rise from the cocoon's elastic bed and reach the bedside table next to my single bed—there was a shoe box on it, stuffed with bits and pieces of paper, ancient business cards, and similar junk. I dumped all the contents onto the made bed, rifled through the pile of papers, and finally fished out a piece of paper with a mobile phone number and the short name Gosha written diagonally upon it.
Gosha lived in a twelve-story building that was part of a posh gated community right across, but, more importantly, he was a fellow Waldyra player. And not just any player, either—his was an experienced gamer elite case. His extremely well-developed character with a bunch of expensive stuff was some three times stronger than mine. Apart from that, Gosha was a prominent figure in a fairly well-known clan—with a castle and lands, and even some villages of their own. This was someone who'd get me. We were the same age—24 each—and had even been to a few parties together. Not that we were close friends—our interests and our social circles were way too different.
I pulled the telephone toward me and dialed the number hastily, hoping for Gosha to be home. He should be, by any account—it was evening, him being a married man, and all.
Three beeps on, I heard a click, followed by Gosha's irritated voice.
Gotcha, Gosha!
"Hey, Gosha, how's things? It's me, Ros. Well, you know, Rostislav."
"Oh! Hi, Ros. Look, I'm a little busy now, could you call me later? I was just about to dive in."
"Won't take a minute, Gosha!" I blurted as fast as I could. "Uh . . . Look, the thing is . . . Could I borrow a few bucks off you? I only need twenty-eight. I mean, $27.99 would be fine, too."
"Come again? $27.99?" Gosha chuckled. "Dude, you're really something. Why that particular amount, if I may ask?"
"I won't be able to afford a two-week fee otherwise," I fessed up. "My company, well . . . it went belly-up. The boss disappeared without a trace, leaving nothing behind him but unpaid bills. So I'm temporarily unemployed."
"No probbo, amigo. Do you want cash or an e-transfer?"
"An e-transfer would be even better," I said, overjoyed. "Thanks, Gosha! I'll definitely pay you back in a month!"
"I'm in no hurry," Gosha said with a certain amount of gravitas. "Right on, I'll wire it to you in a sec. What's your e-wallet number? I'll just go get my laptop."
I told him the number, doing this the second time in the last 30 minutes, and then went silent, listening to the rustling in the receiver as well as the humming of the PC behind me. In a second I'd hear the clinking sound informing me of 28 dollars landing on my account. A few minutes later, they'd all be on my gaming account, and after that I'd be free to play my favorite game for as long as I can afford.
However, there was no clinking sound. Instead, I heard Gosha's voice in the receiver again. He sounded somewhat pensive this time.
"Hey, Ros . . . Have you got a minute or sixty?"
"What do you mean?"
"Have you got any free time at the moment? About an hour or so?"
"Sure," I answered in the affirmative, somewhat perplexed. "I told you I was unemployed, didn't I? It's just that I'd been intending to dive, too."
"You'll have all the time in the world for it," Gosha said reassuringly. "Come on over to my place in the meantime. Tell the security guards I invited you, and they'll show you the way to my apartment. Just make it quick, right? I need you here ASAP."
"Got it . . . Hey, Gosha, sorry, but what's up with the money? If you have none on your account, how about a tenner?"
"Ros, give over with the silliness already. Get over here. There's stuff to discuss. Are you coming?"
"I am! I'll be there in five minutes." There was nothing but beeping in the receiver.
I scratched my head in bewilderment and headed for the door, taking a light sports jacket from a built-in wardrobe. Just the piece I needed to complete the look and complement my wrinkly track suit pants and a formerly white t-shirt.
I was really curious about why Gosha would want to talk to me at such haste.
Damn . . . With the timer ticking, I really had to hurry.

Release - March 5, 2020

1 comment :

  1. No comparison between this professionally done translation and the original version. It was pretty horrific, but good enough to pull you into the story.