‘Dude, you haven’t played in fragging… weeks!‘ Harry sighed as he sat back on the synth-leather sofa and stared out of the rain-streaked window at the rainbow constellations of neon signs below.
Beside him, Gary took a long draught from a can of pina colada. ‘It hasn’t been that long. I mean, didn’t we plunder that Portugese Galleon recently? I remember standing on the fo’c’sle whilst that dude in a fancy shirt tried to run you through with his sword. Then we had that funny argument about whether bringing a pistol to a sword-fight is cheating.‘
‘You just mispronounced “fo’c’sle”. You’re out o’ practice, matey.‘ Harry raised his arm and rolled back his sleeve. For a second, he stared at his wristwatch, as if he was checking the time like an old person. In a low voice, he said: ‘Calculate time elapsed since user Capn_RUM420 last logged into Treacherous Seas.‘
In a perfectly-modulated voice, the wristwatch said: ‘Time elapsed is five weeks, three days, ten hours, thirty-four minutes, nine seconds, four hundred micro…‘ Harry muted the voice and rolled down his sleeve.
Gary raised an eyebrow and finished his pina colada. ‘I thought it was just a few days. Damn.‘ He took a deep breath. ‘Only one thing for it.‘
A huge grin spread across Harry’s face as he reached under the sofa and pulled out the virtual reality helmets. He handed one to Gary. Like knights armouring up for battle, they donned their helmets and stood up. Against the gloom of the helmet, Gary heard Harry growl: ‘Awaitin’ orders, cap’n!‘
Below the rim of the helmet, a smile crossed Gary’s face: ‘Raise the sails!‘
At that command, the helmets activated. In less than a second, jaunty accordion music and the piercing stench of brine filled the air. Gary staggered as the deck of his ship swayed beneath his feet, his virtual beard swinging quietly below his chin. The dead weight of the cutlass on his hip and the brace of pistols on his chest helped him to keep balance, but he still found himself gripping a wooden railing.
Beside him, the eyepatch-wearing parrot on Harry’s shoulder let out a mocking squawk. Harry grinned: ‘Still findin’ yer sea legs, cap’n? Anyone would think ye were a landlubber!‘
‘They must have messed with the buoyancy settings since I last played…‘ Gary hastily corrected himself. ‘Er… I mean, quiet ye bellyachin’, mangy dog! Or I’ll have ye flogged at the mizzenmast for mutiny!‘
‘Yes, sir. What are yer orders cap’n?‘ Harry stood to attention. The parrot pecked at the air purposefully.
Gary reached into his coat and pulled out a scroll. As he unfurled it, a table of statistics appeared on the tea-stained parchment. He gasped: ‘Blusterin’ typhoons! Where be our gold? Don’t tell me ye spent it on DLC!‘ With a beady eye, he glowered at the shiny new eyepatch that Harry’s parrot was wearing.
‘Must have been stolen, cap’n.‘ Harry said nervously. ‘I suggest we plunder it back. I’d bet ye a doubloon that there’s a schooner near here loaded with bounty. And, I’d wager, rum too!‘
Frowning slightly, Harry stared up at the crow’s nest and shouted: ‘Roger? Any ships.’
A voice shouted back: ‘Aye, cap’n! Sail ahoy to starboard. Sittin’ low in the water too!‘
Taking a deep breath, Gary bellowed: ‘Starboard cannons! Let’s shiver their timbers!‘
A series of deafening roars and pops thundered through the air. The deck juddered violently. Thick clouds of white smoke engulfed one side of the ship. A satisfied smile crossed Gary’s face. He really had forgotten how much fun it was to fire the cannons. A second later, a quiet splashing sound echoed over the deck.
Above him, Roger’s voice shouted. ‘Our shots fell short, cap’n. The ship be turnin’ away, shall we give chase?‘
Gary let out a sigh and shook his head. Harry glowered at him, before a mischievous grin crossed his face. In a solemn voice, he said: ‘Ye are unfit to command this vessel. Under the pirate code, I challenge ye for the captaincy.‘
‘F***in’ seriously?‘ Gary muttered, hearing the bleep of the game’s profanity filter ring through his ears. Harry suppressed a laugh. Getting back into character, Gary shouted: ‘All right! I’ll run ye through, ye treacherous dog!‘
In a second, the air was filled with the clashing of steel as their cutlasses met. As they swashbuckled furiously, Gary realised that the swordfights were quicker than he remembered. That the weight of the thirty inches of steel in his hand was greater than he thought.
Clumsily, he parried and swung, feeling confident once again. But, just as a satisfied smile crossed Gary’s face, his vision flashed red. Cartoon blood spurted from his sword arm. Harry let out a triumphant laugh and raised his cutlass for a killing blow.
Without even thinking, Gary reached towards his chest with his other arm. He grabbed a pistol from the bandolier, angled it forward and fired. A soul-shuddering crack filled the air and, against the clouds of white smoke, green text swam in front of his eyes: ‘USER Brine_Hound763 fell to a pistol ball. Respawning in 10..9…8..‘
When Harry reappeared on deck, he shook his head: ‘All right, ye won cap’n. Ye fought like a n00b and, by yer own admission, ye cheated. But, ye won.‘
Gary grinned at him: ‘Must be beginner’s luck.‘