The Egg is a collection of six short stories that I published back in 2013, but at least two of them – The Gamer and Brehak – were conceived more than a decade earlier. Both grew out of my fledgling experiences as an online gamer, and the realisation that seeing really is believing, even when you know that what you’re seeing isn’t real.
But if two gamers can fall in love with their respective avatars, what happens when reality intrudes? Or when one of them deliberately deceives the other? Readers of Innerscape will recognize both of these themes. They, and much of the backstory of Innerscape grew out of these two stories.
The following excerpt is taken from the second story, Brehak:
The dark-haired man with the impossibly long legs sprawled on his throne, surrounded by a bevy of naked beauties – all small-breasted, all blond, all wearing the same come hither look. Except he hadn’t come…
“Out. All of you. Get out!”
As the blond NPCs winked obediently out of existence, their lord and master rose from his ornate, padded throne, and strode over to a huge tapestry that hung on the wall behind the throne.
The tapestry hid an iron-studded door that led out to a windswept balcony. From there he would have a panoramic view of the icy wastes that lay beyond the battlements. His realm.
Grabbing the iron ring that served as a handle, Brehak flung the door open, and walked outside. The chill wind, and the snow beneath his naked feet made him shiver, but he welcomed the discomfort. It was nice to feel something for a change.
When he had first created this fantasy realm three months ago, everything had been new and exciting, including the sex. But the thrill of being serviced by his harem of Ktah look-alikes had waned very quickly. No matter how he programmed them, their behaviour was never realistic enough to make him believe he was with her. None of them could ever capture that strange innocence lurking behind her seductive blue eyes.
Had she even been a she?
Brehak had agonized over that question a million times since the night Ktah disappeared from the OR. Her voice had certainly been that of a woman, but he knew that didn’t mean much. When he had tried out a female avatar, just to see what it would feel like, the game AI had subtly altered his voice patterns to make him sound more feminine. His walk though, and his body language, had remained stubbornly masculine.
Ktah had not played typically female classes, yet even so her body movements had always been graceful in a way most men could never match-
…except perhaps a really good female impersonator…
Was that why she/he finally ran away? Because they’d come so close to stimming?
Some days, Brehak was revolted by the thought that Ktah might have been a man. Other days he cursed her/him for not following through. Perhaps if they had finally had sex he would be able to move on. But they hadn’t, and the questions remained.
It was not that he had been in love with Ktah – they had not known each other long enough for that – but the possibility had been there, impossible to ignore. Impossible to forget.
Brehak knew it was stupid to be so obsessed with an avatar, and he had tried to exorcise Ktah’s memory many times, but none of the women he met in OR could hold his interest for long. Most were nice enough, but sooner or later they all started talking about meeting up ‘outside’, and that always killed it for him.
Back when the OR had been in its infancy, he had made the mistake of telling one woman why they could never be together in real life. The pity, and revulsion he had seen on her face had scarred him more thoroughly than all the surgeries he had undergone. Apparently some women could face making love to a man with no legs, but drew the line at one with no bowels…
Would he have seen that same look on Ktah’s face – if he had told her the truth about himself?
“We’ll never know now, will we?”
Leaning on the cold stone of the balustrade, Brehak looked out over his empty, icy realm and laughed. It was not a happy sound.
Brehak is by far the darkest story in the Egg. The rest range from kid-friendly to vaguely funny [The To-Do List], but all deal with how human beings deal the the technology we are likely to face in the future.
The Vintage Egg is starting its five day free run on Amazon tomorrow [March 2 northern hemisphere time, March 3 southern hemisphere time], and I hope everyone grabs a copy while it’s free.