I should have expected second thoughts. I need to discuss them with a co-worker beside me. I watch her mornings through the small gap in our shared cubicle wall the size of a simple mistake, a separation where the plastic teeth beneath the beige fabric are made to align but don’t. While I wait for the screen in front of me to whirr on along with my day or as I press number one for new messages, she manages to look busy.

peteredpan: well im going to quit

jerseygirl: sorry repeat please

Instant messaging users aren’t often asked to repeat the words hanging before them during their written exchanges. Aude, who calls herself jerseygirl because she likes to pretend she’s from Asbury Park like Bruce Springsteen even though she’s actually and entirely French, will ask people to repeat themselves in conversation because she hasn’t understood.

peteredpan: well i sure will miss you

jerseygirl: where are you going

peteredpan: im done here, im giving my notice

jerseygirl: what does this mean?

peteredpan: cant do it anymore

jerseygirl: why dont i believe you

We work for the press in our office. Rather, we work for clients who want to make the press work for them. In the end, we find a way to work everyone around to the opinion our clients have paid us to formulate about themselves. The name we give to this process is consumer public relations. The post I occupy within it is junior account executive and, for longer than I could have imagined, the follow-up calls and the reply-at-your-earliest-convenience emails required to live up to the job title have been providing me with the understanding that a kind of inconceivable beauty begins just outside my office door, but sitting inside as I am, I miss what could be the last chance to ever be a part of it. I can feel the cubicle walls growing. I fantasize about the exit.

Before I can respond again to Aude, we’re directed to join in on a conference call from our desks. I hear the electronic dirge various phone keypads make around me, as people behind other cubicles punch in the conferencing access numbers. Aude and I and our boss, Pat, greet the two other parties dialed into the call: the client representative from nRapture Games there to provide details on the latest installment in a popular videogame series, and a national press reporter, who has been waiting to review the new game for a year, agreeing to listen to our spiel solely on the grounds that he receives an exclusive advance copy.

“Can people hear me?” Pat barks behind me, yards away, within the glass of her corner office, blinds not yet drawn. I hear her demand only through my receiver. I look over my shoulder again for ocular proof that it’s Pat.

peteredpan: what are you doing after the thing tonight

jerseygirl: he and i will go out to dinner, normally

peteredpan: thats a shame

jerseygirl: do you want to come?

peteredpan: no thank you

jerseygirl: you are thinking i will be interested in doing something else

peteredpan: nope oyu are thinking that

While we type, Pat provides background information on the client spokesperson, nRapture’s Chief Marketing Officer. He prefers that we address him as CMO. Aude and I are introduced and then, for the remainder of the call, are present only to take down notes so we can all be, as Pat has said, “smarter.”

I reshuffle papers looking for nothing and find a copy of the latest press release for nRapture Games about the launch of its newest title, Serum Seeker 2: Crips and Bloods. I brow-furrow over the boilerplate I wrote a year ago.

About nRapture Games:
Founded in 1992, nRapture Games is a leading publisher of PC and console titles specializing in first-person shooters. The flagship series, Serum Seeker, has sold over 12 million copies worldwide to date. is located on the Internet at

Last night, Aude and I returned from a trade show on the same plane back from Los Angeles. I offered her a ride home from the airport. In the car she mentioned that it was her birthday.

“You’re kidding.” I double-checked with her. Our exhaustion had turned into delirium, after a week standing in the middle of the trade show floor as the go-betweens for a thousand people. I figured maybe she’d forgotten what day or month it was or where exactly we were now that we were no longer at work.

“No, it is true.”

“Why didn’t you say so before,” I sat up straight while driving. Energy to stay awake, seconds before almost drained for good, turned up again. “What do ya’ know...”

“I didn’t want Pat to take me to a restaurant where the waiters sing you a song,” she confessed.

“Good thinking. So you have something special planned tonight?”

“Really no,” she pouted as though it hadn’t occurred to her. For her twenty-ninth birthday, her fiance was absent. “He’s on business,” she said and then went on to murmur that it would be like any night back at her apartment waiting for him to call. I proclaimed this would not stand. I steered us off course.

We drove toward the shore. At a gas station, I purchased beer and a snack-sized yellow cake, items which didn’t mix well but which Aude seemed to think was a kind of otherworld delicacy. Nearby, we found a large dimple in the crest of a dune that blocked the blowing wind and sand. I planted a flimsy sea oat into the cake and set the tail on fire with her lighter. It blew out before Aude could manage a breath or a wish, but she said thank you and turned her face toward the ocean, reflecting the pink of the sky. She closed her eyes and made a wish despite the missing candles. She wished beside me for a full minute.

About Aude Prigent:
Aude has bad posture but she looks so enthralled by the task beaming from her computer screen that the curl she’s arranged her body into almost seems good for her. She has unruly brown hair that springs up in wisps around her ears by the end of the day, and brown eyes, like drops of melted chocolate, but with a glint that forms a tiny overturned crescent moon in each pupil. She appears as someone you believe you’ve met before and you’re struck with the idea that she recognizes you too, but doesn’t want to say anything. Aude was born in the small town of Mouthe, France which is not pronounced like the facial feature, but rather as “moot.” As Aude tells it, the town annually records the coldest temperatures in her nation. Aude speaks English well with only a whiff of an accent, but can be heard periodically making phonetic switcheroos such as “I couldn’t give one yoda about what you are saying,” attributing gender to inanimate objects like “Has anyone seen my pen? I don’t know where I put him,” or translating directly from the French in her head with statements like “I already have twenty-nine years.”

In June, Aude plans to marry Laurent, whom she met at lycée, which she had to explain to me is the equivalent of our high school. Laurent is now a newly hired analyst at an intellectual property management firm in San Francisco. The wedding will be in a tent in their hometown. The colors are yellow and periwinkle blue. The registry and directions to the tent are located on the Internet at www.yahooo.acommence/mariagelaurentaude.

One minute into the conference call and the CMO is not prepared for the unfortunate questions. The reporter extinguishes the small talk with a detailing of the morning headlines.

“A boy in Biglerville, Pennsylvania stole his father’s gun and then shot and killed both his parents. You’ve read all about this already I’m sure...?”

“Oh yes, of course. Awful,” the CMO replies before the reporter can finish.

“You heard he even managed to shoot a neighborhood dog…”

“Crazy,” the CMO yaps out again.

“...before turning the gun on himself?” Everyone on our end keeps quiet wondering if maybe he knew the boy and therefore someone should offer more specific words of sympathy or if he’s just intentionally wasting everyone’s time with the wind-up to his theory about the world is going to hell.

“So I assume you’ll want to provide a reaction statement first.”

“A reaction? From us?” the CMO’s impatience spills over.

“More specifically to the police report that found a copy of Serum Seeker in his PlayStation. They say at the time of the murders that the game was, you probably heard this too, paused on the final level,” the reporter waits. I feel an expectant group smile melting away in the furnace of the created call. “So I thought I’d first get the official company comment.”

“We are shocked. We feel this is...certainly, it’s a tragedy, a shocking thing. And here so shockingly young...” Pat becomes lost but is saved by the reporter who interrupts her with a snowstorm of crinkling paper that drowns her out.

“If I could then get a response to the rumors that nRapture has hidden gory sequences within its game, rather than fully removing them, to receive a lower ESRB rating,” the reporter continues.

“Going back to your earlier question, I don’t believe we have anything official at this time, do we Pat?” The CMO’s voice sounds as though he is backing away from his phone.

“...that you then posted cheat codes on your website for kids to unlock these sequences...”

“Now there, I challenge your use of the word kids. Most of our fans are my age,” he manages to cling onto one of the rehearsed key messages.

“As you know, we were out of pocket all last week,” Pat reminds herself and everyone else.

“...and one of these sequences lets the player use a twelve-gauge to shoot an opponent’s spine away one vertebrae at a time.”

peteredpan: this isa train wreck

jerseygirl: didnt you hear, it was a shooting

peteredpan: not what i meant

patsmueller: gil get me the times

peteredpan: i need to talk theres something i wanted to tell you last night

patsmueller: ?????????????????>:”

peteredpan: Very sorry Pat I was thinking out loud. I’ll get that right away

patsmueller: adn get me fcts from the dxshittn site

peteredpan: Excuse me, which site was that?

patsmueller: thx

As the reporter talks about the psychological impact of videogame violence to which his feature piece has now been shifted, the CMO breathes directly into his receiver producing a sound like a microphone in a sea squall. I wing a copy of the New York Times onto Pat’s desk with the piece on the shooting above the fold. Though Pat has already read through the tech insert this morning, she now stares hard at the front page with her hands covering her temples. I dart back to my desk.

jerseygirl: idont want to be here

peteredpan: just blew it with pat

jerseygirl: i wish to leave

peteredpan: i sent her tythe message i had for you

jerseygirl: if i walk out of the door, would you leave with me?

peteredpan: we could easily slip out, no one is looking

jerseygirl: but I haven’t even pakced my things

peteredpan: its much two late for that now

At that particular second, I sneeze directly into the phone, halting all current discussions I’m involved in. The uncontrollable reaction comes roaring through my sinuses, due to Spring pollen or an allergy to multi-tasking. I peek over my shoulder again. Pat looks at me as though my sneeze was meant ironically and therefore not appreciated.

jerseygirl: that was very cool of you

peteredpan: im the last of the seven dwarves

peteredpan: can we talk?

jerseygirl: we are talking

peteredpan: i mean serious and face to face

jerseygirl: ~

peteredpan: what does that syumbol stand for?

jerseygirl: its new and stands for something eneormous

peteredpan: i think u should reconsider your plans

jerseygirl: its more easy for you

peteredpan: and you can start by teling him the dinner went late tonite

jerseygirl: an exceptional dream

peteredpan: even more raeson why you should stop eveyrthing that you are signing yourself up for

jerseygirl: because you believe all dreams are to become true?

About Other Guy:
Born 27 years ago, Gil Silo is really more into movies. Rather, he cannot go long without being offered a two-hour refraction of the world he was born into. He assumed joining a company that required videogame “research” hours would be an example of a dream, though abridged, coming true. Instead he spends more time trying to remember what bagel flavor the Wall Street Journal tech editor likes rather than the content of the product being sold.

Gil started out on the eastern seaboard of the U.S. and remains certain that the direction of wherever the water lies must be east. This confusion is regarded as both a symptom and an excuse for his more figurative lack of direction since moving to California. It is also possibly the commute from San Francisco to Menlo Park each day that is enough to drive anyone to the “looney tune” as Aude would say. After two years, Gil concerns himself more than he cares to admit with the mistake he believes his colleague is making in getting married. Gil has noted that, for his future wife’s birthday, Laurent never so much as called.

Moreover, Aude has changed Gil’s days into a habitual surprise. In one small example, the skin joining her thumb to the rest of her hand is an oasis of magic and self-possession. He wonders how the elevator security cameras ever allowed such a person with this much life in her in the building at all.

“nRapture is involved in a medium of entertainment that hits at a level more fundamental than our very own nervous systems,” the CMO on the call is trying to explain the universe. I’m reminded that the term “evangelist” is no longer only reserved for the church. “With the change our country, nay, our world is undergoing...”

jerseygirl: listn i will tell you

peteredpan: did he say nay?

jerseygirl: i know you are seeing me through the wall

peteredpan: ok

“Therefore, setbacks are inevitable,” the CMO concludes.

“I get it. Can I quote nRapture on all that?” the reporter asks.

“Please quote this ‘nRapture sits at the dead - no - live center of a new world and genius is rarely recognized in its own time.”

patsmueller: gil! get to work on a retraction statement ASAP

Afterward, Pat personally calls up the reporter to translate what the CMO has said in business terms and then invites the reporter to nRapture’s after-hours get together at the go-cart raceway and fun center. During the lengthy conversation, Pat utters the word “Yes” twelve times in a row. She then makes another call to the CMO to tell him nRapture may make the cover of next week’s issue.

The day slows and the sky through the Venetian blinds in our office shows off a fantasy slate and purple city in the clouds. Pat and the rest of the office gather piles of presskits under their arms to continue their day at the go-cart event. On her way out, Pat pours herself more coffee while asking from the kitchen if we’re coming.

“You know, I’ve got a lot of stuff to catch up on,” I shout back to her.

“I’ll meet you there in some minutes,” Aude says.

Pat doesn’t hear either one of us and leads a tight herd of underlings out the door. Pat stops to write the word basura on a piece of printer paper and proudly asks a junior account executive to tape it on the wall over a mountain of empty shipping boxes and bubblewrap set for the dumpster. With the to-do item she personally labeled “I’m a culturally-aware individual” checked off, Pat flicks off the light switch on her way out of the door, a cue that we really should be joining everyone else on the purportedly optional fun and games night. Two lone squares of light remain on in the ceiling panels near the windows. Aude and I don’t say a word, continuing to type from respective sides of our wall.

jerseygirl: c moi

peteredpan: im not following

jerseygirl: c = c’est

peteredpan: oh then its you

jerseygirl: i never really left

Aude walks over to the black leather couch by our small library and slips off her shoes. I join her there.

“Can I get you anything?” I whisper so as not to disturb sleeping computer monitors

“No thank you.”

“Say, doesn’t a toe-ring irritate the walking process after awhile?”

“No, I never recall that it’s there.” She stretches her feet out on the floor in front of the sofa. I blip on the PlayStation which, in turn, triggers the t.v. screen its connected to. I begin a snowboarder game that lets me fire a rocket launcher at the competing boarders sailing down the slope with me. As I perform a tailgrab in the air, I take out a guy in black ahead of me in an explosion of ice and fire. Aude flips through a bridal magazine.

“Aren’t you going to the thing?” I wonder without taking my eyes off my action.

“I don’t know exactly. Are you?”

“No sir.”

“You are sure you will quit tomorrow?”

“I’m sure.”

“What will you do?”

“Who can say? I might go on a long road trip. Or maybe try my luck at armed robbery.”

“Well, I will miss you too,” she says and stands up. She drops the magazine at her feet and heads for the outside. “My very best regards.” The door shuts and the sounds of the snowboarding game fill the office. I let my guy sail into a tree.

I feel the decomposition of the highways. I drive home alone, north toward the hills of the city out of the flat, overheated ground of the Silicon Valley, as I have for almost three years. I feel doors shutting on the mirrored office parks in the dusk. I’m aware of lagoons drying up. I see the airport vanish and wires strung along the highway snap away from the timber of telephone poles. Concrete crumbles under my tires and pink stucco houses blow off the ridge like sand castles. Soon my tin car falls away by part, until I’m gently skidding along the dust of an untouched peninsula. I am four hundred thousand years old, intruding on barren soil and moving with fossils that never had to question their motives or the substance of things they couldn’t touch.

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