“She’s new,” Carlos narrowed his focus on the green-haired woman that wasn’t there moments ago. If he had not been scanning the crowd intently, he wouldn’t have noticed her. He counted beachgoers from his seat at a wooden picnic table. So far, he found most of the children from the restaurant matched to different parents. At one moment he looked down to jot a number; when he looked back up an older woman in a forest-green swimsuit moved through the crowd.
Carlos looked left and right along the stretch of beach in confusion. He paid very close attention to the crowd and there was nowhere she could have come from. Not only did she seemingly materialize out of thin air, but she also wore a green suit. The only green suit in the sea of 32 red, 33 white, and 33 blue swimsuits. He hopped off the wooden bench and walked toward her.
“Alright. How do I sound NOT crazy?” Carlos wondered as he took slow steps through the sand. He never approached a stranger in his 23 years of life; he had no idea what to say. “Just get her to look around,” he decided to let her notice the pattern of people. The woman stopped at a less crowded area. She unfurled a beach towel and Carlos briefly wondered where it came from. He had not noticed her carrying anything. When she sat on the towel with a small novel, he conceded he may have been focusing on her suit too much to notice anything else.
His nerves fluttered wildly in his gut as he drew closer; but, he was determined to find out more about why he saw the same group of people everywhere. He had no idea what to say even as he reached her towel.
“HI!” he panicked and blurted out the greeting. The green-haired woman jumped in surprise and looked up from her book. Somehow her emerald eyes registered even more surprise when she saw him, she immediately hopped to her feet.
“Hi,” she smiled. “You surprised me a bit, I didn’t know anyone else was here.”
“Well…,” Carlos opened his arms to gesture at the crowd around them. It seemed like a good opportunity to get her to start noticing them. “…they’re here,” he said. The woman giggled as if he told a joke.
“I’m Glorianna, but you can call me Glory,” she extended a delicate hand; Carlos shook it.
“Carlos,” he said with a smile.
“Join me,” Glory gestured at the towel, then sat down. Carlos did. “I’m a Librarian,” she held up the small novel. It was a well-worn paperback with a blank purple cover. “What about you?”
“Programmer,” Carlos replied. At least, he was before he noticed the repeated strangers the day before. He did not return to work after lunch and didn’t even call in today. He was not sure he still had a job and even less sure that it mattered.
“Oh!” Glory’s face lit up. “What’s your specialization?” she asked.
“Java I guess?” Carlos shrugged. “I don’t know if I’d call it a specialization, but it’s my favorite.”
“Oh,” Glory replied with a trace of confusion in her voice. “I don’t think I’ve heard of that one, it must be a Fragmented Spec.”
“Fragmented Spec? What do you mean?”
“The AlterNet is shaped by the players, and naturally that creates a lot of non-standard classes. So, any class or spec not approved by Dana Sharp is considered ‘Fragmented’. The only thing it really means is that you can’t use it in tournaments. So…,” Glory smiled. “…what can you do with Java?”
Carlos stared at her in silence while he organized his thoughts. She said a lot of things that he did not understand; but, she spoke as if he did. The name she used, Dana Sharp, stood out the most; she used the name as casually as someone using the president’s name.
“Who’s Dana Sharp?” he decided to ask about the name instead of the phrase, ‘AlterNet’. It was Glory’s turn to stare at him silently. She put her hand on the paperback.
“Deep Study,” Gloria whispered. Her green eyes began to glow with a soft purple light that Carlos noticed, even in broad daylight. After a moment of purple, her eyes widened and the glow dissipated.
“Wow,” she grinned. “You’re amazing!” She hopped to her feet and reached down to pull Carlos up too. “Come on! You have to meet my guild leader, please!” He let her help him up, but he didn’t move to follow her right away.
“What’s going on? What did you just do with your eyes?” Glory responded with giggles.
“It’s too much to explain right now, but uh,” she glanced around the beach. “Look around you, notice anything weird about the people here?” she asked.
“YES!” Carlos shouted. “I noticed you didn’t fit the pattern so I wanted to ask you if you noticed it. I’m not crazy?” he asked. The worry crossed his mind several times. Glory shook her head.
“You’re not crazy. They’re NPCs.”
“Like in a game?” Carlos asked.
“Yes. Somehow, you woke up,” she said.
“Woke up? What do you mean?”
“You were one of them, now you’re not. I’ve heard it happens, but I never thought it actually did. This is so neat!”
“I’m not an NPC,” Carlos said with a shake of his head. “I have memories! A childhood!”
“I’m sure you do, but do you ever think about them? Do you ever try to relive the memories or are you just confident they exist?” Carlos had not thought about his younger days in a long time. When he tried at that moment, he suddenly and randomly remembered being excited for “Picture Day” at school. He realized the kids he’d seen the last couple of days were also his classmates.
“What’s your favorite color?” Glory asked suddenly.
“Green,” Carlos replied with divided attention. Glory smiled.
“Mine too! That’s why I bought a green suit,” she looked him in the eye then her gaze traveled down. “So, why did you buy a red one?” His school picture crystallized in his mind at that moment, and he knew she was telling the truth. He clearly remembered being his own classmate.