Frederick realized he was now the one standing, mouth open, gawping like a fish. Lucky to be getting out? He grew angry again, wondering how that cow could even begin to understand. He lived in a small apartment in the city in order to be close to work and while his salary was adequate for a single man, he was by no means in a position to retire. He had taken the folder Blaze had given him and let it sit on his kitchen table for two days before opening it. At the time he felt there was no point in rushing; Blaze had made it clear that the decision to let him go was final and that the severance was iron-clad. Once he sat down to go through it, he realized his classmate had worked something of a minor miracle: he was able to keep his meager stock options, could pull from the annuities if needed, and had full salary and health insurance for a year and a half. He had traded fairly aggressively over the past few years but the return was certainly not enough to live on until he could collect full benefits at 67. He would need to do something to maintain himself and at his age the prospects were not so great.
With the refrain of the “jolly good fellow” song ringing in his ears, Frederick made his way out of the crowd quietly. He was something of a nondescript fellow and the fact that he was able to leave his own going-away party (that’s what Blaze had called it when he gave the opening plenary) without so much as a buzz confirmed that in fact he probably was lucky to be leaving. At least by leaving he might have a chance to keep what little sanity he had left after pouring so much of himself into his so-called career instead of a wife with children and the attainment of the amenities a loving family would require. As he took a circuitous route back to his cubicle so as not to get steered back to the party, Frederick’s mind went to the one other area of his life into which he poured a great deal of himself: his virtual world experience. He often came to work with bloodshot eyes after spending hours as Nume Longdragon, his avatar in the Megatech Universe. MU was a massive multiplayer virtual world where players could not only visit different continents and towns but could create an entire life; Frederick was a paying member and as such had a virtual apartment filled with furniture, gadgets, a pet, and hip clothing for his avatar. He spent so much time there because he could use the avatar to become someone that he felt he could not be in real life. He, or his avatar as it were, even had a girlfriend. Her name was Ocaxa Stargrin and she was everything Frederick had hoped for in a mate. As Nume, he shared his entire life with Ocaxa. They had met in one of MU’s many club and bar environments; he had seen her ordering a drink and simply walked over to introduce himself. Never in real life would he be so bold, having been spurned too many times in similar situations; he had created Nume to be his opposite and so had few worries about rejection. Nume was something of a typical avatar, in that he was tall and handsome with a well-built physique. Frederick had given him long blue hair and adorned his usually naked arms and torso with tattoos; Frederick’s hair was neither long nor blue, he had developed something of a paunch, and was too afraid of needles to get a tattoo. Ocaxa was, in Frederick’s opinion, a perfect match for Nume: she was nearly his height and wore her bright red hair in a long braid that coiled around her slender waist. When he had Nume step up to her, she turned and the chat box opened immediately. Before he knew it, Nume had been in conversation with Ocaxa for more than an hour. They had agreed right then to meet up the next night at the same place and after about three days were a virtual item. It had been four months and Nume and Ocaxa were making plans to move in together. Frederick quickly gathered his jacket from the back of his cubicle chair and, after making sure there was no one in the hall who might try to get him back to the party, got to the elevator and down to the parking deck. He wanted to get home, have dinner, and get online so he could share with Ocaxa about his day. She was the only bright spot in his life right now and had been so caring when he’d told her about losing his job. At first she seemed a bit upset and he couldn’t tell if it was an upset for him or at him, but he soon realized that she was just as incensed at Blaze and the rest of them as he was. He had told her about his severance and she too felt like Blaze had done pretty good by him. They had gone back to their usual conversations after that and he was thrilled that she still wanted to move in with him/Nume. He was especially anxious to get online to meet her tonight because she had promised that she would have a surprise for him. She had mentioned that the surprise might help him with his job issue, and so he rushed to get home.