Background

“So I figure we ride this thing out as long as we can, collect enough paychecks to buy our way out, and…” I make a sailing motion with my hand, then take another drink of beer.

Ryan looked incredulously at me and says “Don’t know if I’ve been living under a rock these past few days, but what the fuck are you talking about?”

“You know how I do bodyguard duty for N—- M—–, right?”

“Bignuts, yeah”. Bitnuts is how we refer to N—- M—– without needing to type all those redacted characters.

“Well, a few months ago me and Bignuts were stopping by this sprawling, empty office building, on the top floor at night to give a piece of paper to some office jockey. And of course there’s an army there, and me and Bignuts must fight our way out. We take the baddies out, finish the job, and go on our merry way.”

“Sure, sure,” Ryan nods along, pieces finally coming together in his head, though tiny wheels with hamsters inside of them, they’re unmoving, the hamsters snore, he’s on autopilot.

“So we fight our way through Bignut’s competitor’s army, and we look at each other and realize we’ve not taken a serious round in just about the longest time. Neither of us has been shot, and we’ve been in a virtual war with these scumbags for years now.”

“No shit. You don’t say.” He nods along at the correct moments, knows the part he’s playing and what to say at any particular time.

“So we experiment, stop shooting at times and let the other guys take a few shots at us, but they’re not hitting anything. We shoot each other, by-accident, if you’ll pardon a lie, and our bullets pass through us.

“We can’t be hit, we’re going through the motions of fighting enemies, but our motivations are inconsistent with the world we inhabit. Therefore, this is not real.

“We test the limits and know that our lives are very narrow and are mostly centered around the jobs we go on, that Bignuts receives from Home Office and we follow, usually ending up in a firefight or a car-chase through the outdoor mall or the airport runways, planes coming in and flying out around us.

“Our lives only exist while we’re on our jobs, and the rest is consolidated, given to us as a package of memories, something we absorb in seconds and are suddenly UP TO DATE…” I almost yell into Ryan’s face.

“How are you talking to me, then?”

“Finally catching on, eh?” I take a swig of my beer before continuing. “This was a few months ago. We figured out since then how to control this. As did a lot of other people, so now there’s an economy based on these jobs.” I nod over towards the restaurant’s entrance. Ryan glances in that direction and doesn’t notice me lightly brush the back of his jacket.

Two men in pink are standing between the Maitre D and the door, the host is off to the left at a podium with a large registration book. The pink man on the left takes out a gun with his left hand and shoots the Maitre D and the host. A firefight erupts.

I fall to the ground and clutch at my shoulder, wince at an invisible pain and scream out, an incoherent pain made audible.

Ryan looks over at me and winces, looks at my shoulder. “You’re not hit, asshole.”

“Yeah. Background extra is a step closer to freedom, don’t you know?”

“Oh fuck, we’re not real?” Ryan looks up at the pink men. They’re occupied in a shoot-out with the cops who’ve somehow just arrived outside the restaurant. It’s going to be a slow escalation of violence, you mark my words. National Guard is eventually going to show up. The background staff is pretty much done here, the shootout is not going to concern us, they’ll soon move on to the opera house next door and the catacombs beneath it.

A bullet hits Ryan in the shoulder, then another one in the face. One of the waiters sprinted from the kitchen and out the door, had nailed the only one of us still moving around the restaurant, and was quickly through the opera house doors.

“Thanks for taking one for me, man. No matter how many times I play the background, taking a shot in the face just doesn’t appeal to me.”

Why did I lie to him? Why not just pretend to have a conversation about the DOW and how the market is doing? Because I could. He was just a background actor that I could mess with. Still experimenting with the best approach, trying to find something to really knock them on their asses. Helps pass the time. Think next gig is in a subway. Might try to convince one of them to start a scene, start screaming about the bugs under the skin. Always do like a nice riot.

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