<<Omega Browser Installing: 1%>>
The first thing I see when I open my eyes are two words that confuse even my pain-addled mind. They don’t make sense. They don’t fit the context of what should be happening right now. I should be seeing stars, not text.
A few minutes ago, I was sitting in front of my monitor installing a new web browser designed by gamers for gamers. It’s supposed to let me see real time information about any game I am playing in a much more intuitive manner than the Mist overlay. It isn’t supposed to blow up my computer and send me flying through what I can only imagine was a black hole.
There isn’t an inch of my body that doesn’t feel as though it had just been beaten with a baseball bat. As I look down at my hands, I can see that they are covered in dirt and grazes from where I slammed into a wall and plopped down into a pool of mud.
My reflection in the puddle in front of me tells me that I have had some better days; my blond hair is covered in so much shit I’m basically a brunette, my decently tanned, I-have-seen-sun-a-few-times-this-week skin is straight up sludge-colored. What’s worse, I smell as though I just took a swan dive into a horse’s asshole. Whatever was in this mud, it probably came from Old Mac Donald’s farm.
I struggle up from my hands and knees as my body curses my very existence and I feel like puking as the blood in my body lurches. My vision darkens for a minute and I nearly pass out before I take a deep breath and cough out my lungs in painful spasms that leave me shaking.
Before too long I manage to slowly shift my weight towards my ass and more-or-less topple onto my ass as I feel the nasty puddle seeping through my jeans. The gross, squelchy feeling is more than enough encouragement to find whatever strength I have left inside of me to push my right hand against the wall of the building behind me and slowly draw myself onto my feet.
<<Omega Browser Installing: 17%>>
In the time it takes me to finally get my feet under my body, the message in front of my eyes has made quite a bit of progress. I don’t know what this browser actually is, but hopefully it lets me press CTRL+Z until my happy ass is back in my chair stuffing nasty ass tacos and cheap soda down my throat.
I take a deep breath and look around me, nearly gagging on my own stink as I gaze off into the dimly lit streets. Everything around me is mired in shadows, but from what I can see, the buildings are not quite old and not in a state of disrepair, but still shabby in appearance. They seem to be made out of dirt packed into large slabs and them topped with a wooden roof. They are sturdy enough, at least if the wall I slammed into has any say in the matter, but I can’t say I’m envious of their inhabitants.
Then again, the houses seem to be in a lot better shape than the road. At least, if it is a road. I’ve seen better paths on a country bike trail. There are spots of the road that look like they had been stone at one point, but right now everything is a mismatch of mud slurry and gravel.
“Where am I?” I’ve been to poor neighborhoods before, but I can’t say that I’ve been to neighborhoods where the houses were literally made out of dirt. What kind of people live here?
For a moment, I’m tempted to knock on one of the doors leading into the dirt houses to find out the answer to my question, but the second I look at the entrances I realize that the doors aren’t wood but rather flat drapes. They seem clean considering they are hanging in dirt, but it is too dark out to tell whether they are colored or just plain bolts of cloth.
“Seriously, what kind of people live here?” I look around again and wonder what I should do. Who do I talk to when I get blasted out of my house and sent through a black hole to who-knows-where? I’m pretty certain I’m not in America anymore, and if I’m not in America then I don’t see any reason why I would be anywhere else that makes sense. So that just leaves one option: This shit doesn’t make sense and that’s where I’m at.
From behind me I hear the sound of pebbles falling into the mud and my body jolts out of shock. I turn around and see a fairly sizable impression of somebody’s body in the hard-packed dirt wall and wince.
“Oops.” I don’t want to be that guy who has an accident and then run off, but…
“I should get out of here,” I mutter under my breath as I wonder which way ‘out of here’ refers to. Looking down the left or right side of the road seem to be equally terrible, but off in the distance down the left side of the road I can make out a looming mass that might possibly be a wall… or just a giant domino. Who knows. Been that kinda day.
I start off down the road to my left and glance nervously at the notification that is making way too much progress for my liking.
<<Omega Browser Installing: 52%>>
“What happens when that hits 100%? Do I wake up and have a good laugh?” I smirk derisively at myself. “That’s got to be it. I just forgot that dreams hurt… it was in the latest update of You’re_An_Idiot.” I nod at my antics and glimpse at the progress bar again. “Now hurry up. Daddy’s got work tomorrow and I need to get some real sleep instead of this bullshit.”
The progress bar responds by going up to 57%.
“Okay, you know, I’ve had worse days. I really have. There was that one time that I tripped down the stairs because I almost stepped on a cat. That old lady downstairs bitched at me for half an hour for almost hurting her precious. Fucking cunt didn’t even apologize for almost sending me to the hospital.”
I look around for someone to agree and sympathize with me, regardless of how disproportionate tripping down stairs is compared to being blasted to this place.
“Probably the worst thing about this whole situation is my god damned squelchy shoes!” I kick my leg out in frustration as muddy droplets fly from my shoes. “At one point, these were new. Now? They are fucked. Because fuck me and fuck my shoes. God damn it, why did I have to go out and install janky software that hasn’t even been properly reviewed yet?”
Several steps later I see something in the near distance that lights a spark of hope in my heart: light! And not just any light, the warm light of a fire bobbing up and down in the air as though someone were carrying it.
“Oh thank fuck. I did not want to wake anyone up in this neighborhood.”
With renewed energy I pick up my pace and quickly come to a cross section in the road. In front of me is still the wall that, for whatever reason, doesn’t seem to be any closer than it was further down the road. To my right are more houses that, impossibly, seem to be worse off than the houses I’ve already come across. And to my left I can see the partial shape of someone illuminated by a lantern.
The person is a man, at least going by his facial scruff, and he is wearing armor that looks like it belongs on a Terracotta warrior; it’s just a little shinier. He also has a freaking halberd.
My eyes bug out as I look at the spectacle of a human being in front of me and I’m pretty sure he feels the same way as he takes a large step back while fanning in front of his face with his free hand. I’m about twenty feet away from him, and he is fanning his face. How bad do I stink?
Deciding to ignore that question for a little while, I look him up and down and then say, “So, uh, I’m kinda lost. Any chance you can point me in the direction of America?”
His response is to stand there staring at me with a confused expression on his face. Eventually, he replies, but I can’t understand a single word he says.
“Oh fucking great! I shouda known. No English here, now what?” I sigh and scratch my scalp only to push around a bunch of gunk sticking to my hair.
“Hey, buddy. You know where I can find some water?” I shout at the poor confused guy who may or may not murder me with his halberd.
He cocks his head at me.
“Water!” I mime scrubbing my arms and his expression goes from confused to baffled. I’ve seen that same expression on kids watching monkeys unicycle across a tightrope at the circus.
In frustration, I point at myself and then block my nose with my thumb and index finger. The man watching me continues to stare in confusion before copying my actions. Then a look of sudden enlightenment enters his eyes as my stink suddenly stops assaulting his nose.
Nodding his head at me, he waves for me to follow him, but before I can take a step he changes his hand motions. One hand continues to wave for me to follow him, but the other seems to be pushing away. I sigh as I interpret it to mean ‘follow me, but you stink so please, for heaven’s sake, stay away from me’.
“Yeah, well,” I mutter, “you’re not the only one that doesn’t want me to be here right now.”
The man takes me down the long road he was traveling on prior and into the distance. I’m pretty sure this is a main road due to its quality — and by that I mean a horse wouldn’t have to fly in order to not break its ankles. I’ve still seen better gravel roads in the country, but at the very least I can say that this road is pretty good for a place where people live in dirt houses.
Before long, I am led to a nicer part of the city. The houses along the side of the road are made out of wood and tile and I can only really see the tops of them behind the tall plastered walls the buildings are hiding behind. From what I can see, the houses are in fairly good condition while the walls along the side of the road are sometimes spattered with mud.
I soon realize that the houses I am passing now are actually more like compounds rather than individual homes. Each span of plastered walls lasts at least a hundred meters before it ends in an alley large enough to ride a horse down and then some.
Judging by the number of tiled roofs I can see in each compound, there is either a lot of wasted space and disposable income going on around here or a lot of big families who haven’t heard of nuclear households yet.
I sigh out loud and say, “Places like this really make you wonder about the state of the world. How can there be such a clear divide between people walking down a single road?”
I end up getting the side eye from the guy leading me, but I’m pretty sure he thinks I’m a special kind of person already, so it isn’t like it matters too much.
At one point, we come across two men wearing similar armor as the man leading me and he greets them with boisterous laughter while I stop walking and wait patiently. One of the two men, with a saber hanging off his left hip in its scabbard, points at me and asks my guide something. While I am not sure exactly what he asks, judging by his gestures and good humor it is probably something like, “What the hell is that sludge monster following you for? Get a new pet?”
My guide chuckles and says more words that I interpret as, “Who, him? What would I do with such a stinky pet?”
I know for a fact that he said something about my stench because the two other men take a whiff of the air immediately after my guide finishes talking and they both gag and take several steps back. My guide laughs again and I seriously consider punching him in the face. At least if he uses his halberd on me I won’t have to worry about cleaning up.
A minute or two later, my guard pats the second of the two newcomers on the shoulder, to which the man nearly jumps out of his skin, and points at something in the distance. This second newcomer is wearing a sword on his left hip and doesn’t seem to fill out his armor very well yet. He’s probably a new guy or something.
The new guy can run though, I’ll give him that. He took off down the road so fast that I almost expected him to shout ‘meep meep’ as he left.
With a short wave of his hand, my guide begins walking forward again while talking to the remaining newcomer and I trudge along behind them.
I nearly trip when a soft dinging sound chimes in my head with such a vibrant tone that it comes off as unreal. It is accompanied with a flash in front of my eyes as the browser finishes installing.
<<Omega Browser successfully installed. Reboot required>>
<<Rebooting in: 10>>
Reboot? How about no?
I mechanically raise my hand to cancel the reboot only to realize that there is no cancel button in the bottom right of my vision. Nor is there a tiny ‘x’ in the top right of my vision.
“This browser… it’s in my head, right?” I gulp nervously as I start imagining all of the possible outcomes of something in my head rebooting. At the top of the list, and my most favored option by far, it that I’m crazy and nothing is going to happen. Considering that this browser only took up residence behind my eyeballs after I got yeeted through a wormhole, this is the most likely situation— after all, who the fuck gets yeeted through a wormhole? I’m definitely insane.
My next favorite option is that nothing will happen and I will think that I’m a dumb ass. As to why this is option number two instead of number one, I just think I’d rather be crazy than stuck here.
Finally, and my least favorite option, is that this browser turns off my brain when the counter hits ‘0’.
My feet stay rooted to the ground as I watch the numbers fall. My guide and the newcomer sticking around are shouting something at me in their unknown language, but I don’t have the presence of mind to even bother acting like I care.
As the number hits ‘0’ I take a deep breath and cross my fingers in the hopes of life not completely hating me. ‘0’ comes and goes as the browser blinks out of my vision and I let out my breath while groaning, “Thank go—“
Then everything goes black.