1: Soundscapes & Sleepschedules
Austin was practically fizzing with barely contained excitement. His fingers itched, and his feet thrummed relentlessly under the desk, all his nervous energy trying to escape by any means as his brain whirred. He wanted - needed - to tell someone. It was very possible that he might just pop otherwise. But who? Austin chewed the side of his thumb as he started at his home screen, set as always to the front page of NoiseTV. It was too soon to say anything, even on his personal channel. The boys would skin him if he blabbed and then some cruel twist of fate meant they were no longer performing. Better to wait for an official announcement from the festival. But then who?
He tabbed out, fingers tapping a restless staccato on his desk, when his computer chirped at him. Austin’s fingers paused. Pursing his lips, he paged over the many tabs he currently had open, to the one where his game character was patiently waiting in the main menu. One of his friends had just come online. Austin frowned slightly at the way his heart uncomfortably urched, and logged in.
Austin’s avatar phased into town, a monstrously hulking warrior-class who stood head and shoulders above half the character models scurrying around on their business. Perhaps it was a mistake, and she hadn’t logged out yet. It was late. Really, really late. A tiny, ugly goblin immediately bobbed up to him in game, wearing the most garishly ornate armour for such a small, misshapen character. The little goblin waved energetically at him with its oversized hands, and Austin couldn’t help but smile. He clicked on the little model, and typed.
TexasRed: You’re up late.
The little goblin on his screen did a silly dance, and then fell over.
JimTheGoblin: I can’t sleeeeeep.
As if to punctuate this, the goblin rolled over and started snoring, with little visible “zzzs” rising from it’s head. Austin’s grin grew and his restless leg stilled. Jim lived on the other side of the world. While the sun was still shining for Austin it would be an indecent time of the night where she lived.
TexasRed: You working?
JimTheGoblin: Fucking deadlines, man.
This wasn’t unusual behaviour. Every couple of months, Jim would magically start turning up online at the strangest hours. Deadlines, it seemed, gave her anxiety, and anxiety gave her insomnia. She’d start putting her hand up to run dungeons at dumb hours, punctuated with about twelve coffee breaks. She was a minor god of procrastination, but as far as Austin could tell, whatever stupid deadline she was currently facing always got met.
Jim was a young woman. Nothing about the character she played, or even her general behaviour online gave this impression, but Austin knew it to be true. He’d been afraid when they first started running dungeons together and she’d revealed her gender that she was a catfish, but they talked regularly through Vox, a program that offered text and voice channels. There was nothing to say she looked anything like what Austin pictured when he spoke to her - which was certainly not the small, ugly male goblin toon she bloody-mindedly refused to change - but she was certainly female.
Austin’s computer chimed, and with a start he realised he’d been sitting in one of Vox’s music channels with his microphone on mute. He’d had the SludgeFest compilation list of artists playing but he’d tuned it out as background noise when he had started typing.
“Is that Winterguard?”
The voice that piped out of his computer speakers was the sort of unhinged chirpiness he’d come to recognise as “sleep deprived Jim”. She tended to get a bit too sparkly when she was tired. Austin had been so caught up the past few days that he hadn’t been online much, and he wondered now if he’d missed her nighttime capers for a while. Austin quickly moved the slider on the music bot in the channel, so it was little more than a whisper in the background, and unmuted himself.
“I guess. SludgeFest playlist.”
“Ahhh.” Austin could hear a dull plunk in the background of her mic feed. The little goblin on his game screen had stopped moving a while back and was now peacefully snoring at his character’s feet.
She snorted, and the bass she was fiddling with emitted a few more deep, muddy burps.
“Wouldn’t call it that. I’m making soundscapes, at least according to Mike.”
Jim’s voice was an odd, rich drawl that reminded him of the bass she was currently “soundscaping” on. It had taken him a while to grapple with, but Jim had introduced him to a number of people in her guild that were also Australians, so he had gradually come to get used to, and think rather fondly of the accent. She spoke a lot slower than the American girls Austin was used to, with a lazy sort of thoughtfulness that he had come to associate with many of the Aussies he now interacted with. Jim was no different - she was either whip smart and quick, or so slow and relaxed that it even made Austin feel a little sleepy.
“The fuck is a soundscape?”
“Mmm...ambient noise. Spooky jangly bullshit. You should see this game, man. It’s like a bad Legend of Zelda ripoff that’s been 3D rendered by a two-bit HR Geiger wannabe. Its so fucking grey. It makes my eyes hurt to look at it. And Mike just wants ‘atmospheric sounds’ for the over-world. Pah.”
The bass thunked and murmured in the background, so heavily distorted through whatever she was currently playing around with that it made Austin’s teeth hurt, even through the microphone.
“When are you gonna quit that and make some decent music?” He teased, and Jim snorted again. He was joking, but if pressed he would have admitted that he meant it. He’d never actually seen Jim play - while they spoke about as frequently as two people on opposite sides of the world could they had never video-chatted - but he’d heard her play enough, and seen some of the stuff she’d produced for her company that he knew she was talented. She knew her way around her bass, guitars and piano impeccably well, which no doubt came in handy for the sort of composition work she usually did for video games. She was a passable drummer. He’d never heard her sing though.
“Oh I’m sorry, we can’t all be as gifted as you, Mr Golden Pipes.” Her slow drawl was thick with sarcasm. Austin had to grin at that. She’d always been so supportive of his dabbling and experiments with singing. She’d been one of the first people who subscribed to his silly little covers channel on NoiseTV when he was first starting out. Jim might give as good as she got when it came to teasing, but she genuinely cared. Enough that she had written the more complex guitar and bass parts for a couple of his tracks when Austin had first started experimenting with his own music. Those parts were good - more than good. Probably the best things on his early stuff, standing head and shoulders above his rudimentary attempts to make anything aside from the vocals ‘sound good’. She’d not charged him a penny either, claiming loudly that she was using him ‘for procrastination purposes’ because whatever she was supposed to be working on was boring her to death.
Jim huffed through her microphone, and Austin was treated to a complex, fast run on her bass, as she gave up on the ‘spooky jangly shit’ for a moment and played normally. Bass was her ‘weapon’ of choice, and the most quirky, fun parts of her compositions usually originated from it.
“How are the gremlins going, anyway?” She asked, fingers wandering across the neck of her bass in an abstract, absentminded pattern as she spoke. ‘The gremlins’ were his new band, his first real project. They’d heard his stuff online, and reached out about a year back. Their EP was only a few months old, and quickly picking up steam. Austin hummed happily to himself, and rocked forward in his seat. His ears pricked as the music in the background of their conversation changed. This song he knew, far better than whatever Winterguard number they had chosen to include on this particular playlist. Even playing quietly, the opening riff of Villification’s “Lights In The Sky” was an infectious heavy mix of chunky and boppy.
“Good, good. We got some great news, actually. I’m not really supposed to tell anyone yet until it’s official.”
Austin heard the thump of the bass hitting the ground. Jim must have leaned in, because her voice was suddenly a lot louder in her exhausted over-enthusiasm.
“You can’t just say that and leave me hanging. Spill the beans.”
He couldn’t help but grin like an idiot.
“Winterguard just had to drop out of Sludge. They’re based in the same city as us. Guess who they called to replace them?”
Jim audibly sucked air in through her teeth, and Austin could hear her palm slap down excitedly on her desk. Things rattled and jangled audibly through her mic, clearly whatever was piled on the abused desk in question.
“You’re shitting me! Really?”
“They called me this morning.”
The excited squeak that fizzed through his speakers made Austin grin, as he listened to Jim stamp excitedly. When she spoke next, it was muffled, and he could almost see her sitting with her fingers in front of her lips in his mind’s eye.
“You’ll be in Australia then. You playing the whole festival? Every venue?”
“Every venue. Though when they told us how long the flights are just to get from one city to another I almost cried.”
She was humming excitedly, a tune that Austin could almost-but-not-quite recognise. Jim had a nice voice, even if she didn’t sing.
“You better give me an autograph then when you get here.”
That stopped Austin dead. Somehow it hadn’t occurred to him that Jim and the festival were technically in the same place. The thought of actually meeting her simultaneously terrified him and sent butterflies erupting in his stomach. They had been internet buddies for so long, but he’d never seriously entertained the idea of actually meeting her.
“You’re coming to the festival?”
“Ya, the first show is in Sydney. I gotta be in Sydney for work anyway, so I’m getting the train down. We don’t get many good festivals, so of course I’m going.” Jim lived in what she described as the ‘middle of bum fuck nowhere’. She’d explained once that most of her work was done remotely, she just video-chatted with the music director, and sent through files when she was done with whatever her current project was. Austin’s throat felt dry when he finally plucked up the courage to ask.
“How will I recognise you?”
Jim snorted at him.
“Dude, I know what you look like. You won’t be hard to find in any case. Trust me. In any case, I gotta bounce. I need to sleep, or at least try.”
Of course. Austin knew she watched his streams, had seen his videos. He’d gone to the extreme of giving her handle a custom tag colour, so he could see when she typed in his chat logs. He’d felt like he was a twelve year old with a crush when he’d done it, but seeing the disgusting shade of garish green with the name ‘JimTheGoblin’ pop up still made him smile every time.
Playing their first festival bill had suddenly gotten a lot more terrifying. Austin doubted that Jim would be the only one who would now have trouble sleeping in the coming weeks.
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