And I’ve been writing. Go me.

“Guys, I’m really not in the mood for this,” said Argthor the barbarian.

Behind him, the combined forces of the citadel of Tremalon shuffled their feet nervously. Most of them were relatively young, inexperienced. A surgery of sharp objects bristled forwards, pointed largely at the invading demon army, camped out on the opposite side of the valley.

“Really, guys, I’ve got a bit of a headache.”

Dunethin, the great warrior mage, patted Argthor on his hairy, muscled back.

“You can’t leave us now,” said Dunethin, “You’re our main tank.”

“I’ve got work to do.”

“You’re needed here.”

Argthor hefted his Mallet of Destruction and tapped the ground with the end. Crackles of electricity scorched the grass where the mystical weapon connected.

“Seriously, I need an early night. And I’ve got to meet the wife.”

Dunethin shook his head.

“Why you can’t get her here I don’t know,” he said, “Isn’t she a level forty healer or something?”

“She’s lost interest.”

Dunethin waved a hand towards the opposing army, who had started beating their shields and chanting.

“How can she lose interest in this?” he asked, “There’s a war going on. We need her help. Everyone’s help. Your help.”

Argthor stared Dunethin in the eye.

“It’s just not fun any more,” he said.

With those words lingering in the thick afternoon air, the massive barbarian disappeared.

* * *

Please select a destination.

For a while Argthor hung in the psychedelic void of the O Stream, letting his nervous system adjust to the loss of his powerful muscular frame. It was a peculiar sensation, though easier – he had to admit – that that which he felt when he logged out completely. When he did that, he had to remember to breathe as well.

Swimming was the activity that sprang to mind when Argthor had been asked to describe how the Operating Stream felt. Few people still used the naked O Stream, preferring either a simplistic menu system or the newer Hall of Doors, a fully commercialised virtual town. It was called a hall because its original incarnation had been little more than a room, but the Hall was now five versions down the line, and had been greatly expanded to fit the influx of customers.

Argthor didn’t like it much. It felt too real, too confusing. He supposed it was his age – he was the same age now as when his parents had first protested his excursions into the virtual fantasy worlds available on the WorldNet. So little had changed since his childhood, from his perspective, but the rest of the world was developing at a rate of knots.

He remembered how it had been when he had first coined the Argthor character. A system that ran through a set of eyeglasses and headphones, with a basic joypad for movement. Sight, sound, no touch. Graphics that as best could be described as simplistic blocks, and turn-based combat.

And now, not a minute before, he had been able to feel the wind in his hair.

He wondered vaguely if there would be any repercussions to his leaving the battlefield. Unlikely, he thought, but you couldn’t be too careful these days. What should have been a simple game was now a multi-billion dollar business, and level sixty principle characters were all but actually employed to role-play within the worlds on offer. Like it or not, Argthor the barbarian was probably about to receive a court summons.

Argthor imagined he was lying on his back and paddled through the nothingness with his arms. Truth be told, he couldn’t feel his arms, but that was to be expected: he didn’t have any here. He was a point of data, held on a computer chipset the size of a pack of cigarettes, connected to a room-sized server somewhere in London, that was hooked up to another series of servers dotted around the world.

Please select a destination.

Two choices, Argthor thought. He could remain online, thus further irritating his already irritated real-life wife into continuing her virtual affair, which he knew she thought he didn’t know about. Or he could go offline, and stand up his virtual mistress, whom he knew his real-life wife knew about, despite his efforts to preserve the contrary situation.

Somewhere else in the world, along miles of cables and telecommunications lines, Argthor’s real brain sparked one electron into another, and Argthor moved.

* * *

“We should have a baby.”


“A baby. Us.”

“We can’t have a baby,” Argthor replied, “We live on across the world from each other.”

“Of course we can,” Valeen replied petulantly, “We’re married, aren’t we?”

Argthor looked down at the girl in the bed next to him. She was beautiful, with chestnut hair cascading over perfectly formed breasts mapped onto an exquisite ten body. But, like everyone else in this artificial world, she had chosen her looks. Like Argthor himself, in fact, who was more chiselled and refined than his barbarian avatar, but still attractive and artificial.

“It was an online wedding,” Argthor sighed, “It’s not legally binding.”

“What’s the difference?” Valeen asked, “We’re a fake couple in a fake world. Why can’t we have a fake baby?”

“A fake- Wait, what?”

“A virtual child. Didn’t you see the news?”

Argthor had, but hadn’t paid it much heed. The VFamily Corporation – one of eight joint-stakeholders in the Hall of Doors – had apparently developed an artificial intelligence that surpassed that which could currently be found in the online worlds. It was based on the plastic man-made – though physically real – brains used in the servitor androids that populated the real world, although this new intelligence was unfettered with desires to serve mankind.

“I’m not sure I like the idea of a virtual kid,” Argthor said, “I’ve got enough on my plate putting my real children through school, without having to change digital nappies too.”

Valeen stroked Argthor’s chest, which twitched happily at the contact. She was using a program to accentuate his pleasure, and it was working well.

“When was the last time you saw your real kids?” she asked, “I haven’t seen mine in a week. When was the last time they said ‘thank you’, or told you that they love you?”

It was a good point, Argthor conceded. Between his time at work or online, or his kids’ time at school (with virtual teachers, naturally) or with friends online, it had to be a clear month since he spoke to either or them.

“I know you feel uncomfortable in the Hall of Doors,” Valeen said, moving her glittering touch over his hip and down his leg, “but I always figured you’d come round eventually. It’s the place to be. Did you know that twenty percent of the people there are Lifers?”

Lifers were the upcoming breed of full-time net-heads. Armed with the most expensive home connections, they never went offline. Ever.

“Twenty percent, huh?” Argthor smiled, “Where’d you get that statistic?”

“I didn’t make it up. Came off the news channel, I think.”

Argthor sighed, and glanced over at the clock on the nightstand. Twenty-three twenty.

The room was a large, although such terms lose meaning online. It contained digital representations of bedroom furniture, including a massive four-poster bed laid with silky sheets and an inlaid mirror in the ceiling. It was an extravagant venture, Argthor knew, but that didn’t matter. Space and stuff was cheap here, and therefore why not make the best of it?

“I’ve got to go,” he said, “I’ve got work in the morning.”

“Can’t believe you still have a proper job,” Valeen muttered, “You still getting paid more than the dole, or has that overtaken you now?”

“More, just about,” Argthor smiled, “I like my job. It keeps me busy.”

“I can keep you busy.”

Argthor’s smile widened. He kissed Valeen’s brow.

“Tomorrow. Love you.”

“Love you too.”

Argthor disappeared.

* * *

Suck down air like you’ve been dead for a decade.

* * *

The tank opened, and Tony emerged, naked and shivering. All memories of Valeen’s presence were fading, reduced to real life interpretations of a vague affair. He knew this was simply his brain adjusting to the heightened responses of the virtual world, but such knowledge couldn’t stop the vague depression sinking in as his body began to tell him the inevitable: he was offline.

“You’re late.”
Cathleen sat in a chair across the room. Her short legs were crossed, and her face was thunder.

“It’s not even midnight yet.”

“Know what day it is?”


“Good guess, but it’s Wednesday.”


“You’ve been online for four days.”

“Really? My alarm never went off.”

“I called your work. Said you were sick.”

“Thank you.”

“They didn’t believe me,” Cathleen spat, but that didn’t matter, since most of them were online too. In the same battle, I think.”


“So do you know what day it is?”

“You told me. Wednesday.”

“It’s my birthday.”

Tony blinked. Cathleen’s birthday. Of course.

“Happy birthday,” he said.

A tear rolled down his wife’s face.

“How old am I?” she asked.

Tony thought about it for a moment.


“I’m thirty,” Cathleen yelled, standing up, “I’m fucking thirty. Our fucking kids managed to remember and come offline for long enough to give me their best wishes. I’ve been offline for two damn days waiting for you to stop fucking your fantasy rip-off. And you can’t even remember how fucking old I am.”

Still draped in the viscous submersion gel, still clamped down in the relative safety of the tank, still freezing in the unheated air, Tony watched his wife storm out of the room, slamming the door behind her.

Published in: on October 23, 2006 at 1:18 am  Leave a Comment  

The URI to TrackBack this entry is:

RSS feed for comments on this post.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: