Sunday, January 10, 2016

Vestigial Surreality: 05: Lord Dulance

The Sunday SciFi Fantasy Serial, Free Online Fiction, Mystery, Ancestor Simulation, Digital World, Data is Data
episode FIVE
01 02 03 04 05 06 07
08 09 10 11 12 13 14
15 16 17 18 19 20 21
22 23 24 25 26 27 28
29 30 31 32 33 34 35
36 37 38 39 40 41 42
43 44 45 46 47 48 49
Spoken-Word Audio - VS

Lord Dulance.

Six paced outside his chamber, in the small corral of space allotted to each unit, his body ticking with nervous energy, he talked to himself, saying inside his head that it was not that he desperately wanted back into reality, as he thought of it, but that he couldn’t stand another second in this gray, lifeless unreality, this place they called the real world; however, even the vibrant existence of VR could become a grim horror show, although he knew deep down that he was not afraid of what he must face again inside his own personal truth. He punched his right fist into his left hand. The muscles in his face clenched and jerked. He was unaware that drool ran down his neck.
Illustration by Harrison Christian Larsen
Illustration by Harrison Christian Larsen ©2016 - Vestigial Surreality: FIVE
In RL he was a popular guy, with several girlfriends, lots of party friends, and even two or three friends that he might know and cherish years from now, a large family back home with high expectations for him, and everything the American Dream could promise. Six knew that a gloriously high-paying job awaited him, only two years away if he worked hard, yes, yes, that was life, he could berate himself, that was life, where you were born, the home of the brave, things worked for him there in RL, he would assure himself, but you know, you know, oh but you know you fool, all that does not matter, not any longer, not any more.
Because Six had tasted reality, paradise. He experienced what it meant to be alive, fully alive, loved and loving.
Here. Oh here. In RL, now, he was Six. A walking, shuddering bone, twitching, spasmodic, and nameless. Here he was Six, a number, a being who dreamed of reality.
Oh but he was in a quandary, locked in a conundrum, battering his bony head at a dilemma. Stupid, he shouted in his own head, and he slapped himself, hard, across the face. Think, you are supposed to be smart, and you are certainly smarter now, right now, than you were two months ago. He slapped himself again, first with his right hand, and then with his left, battering each of his cheeks until his face felt like a fireball.
High Vale was locked. He had that bookmark right there, just mere hours before the attack on his manor. The bastards had come inland from the Northern Sea, inching their cursed dragon boat up along the peaceful, most beautiful of rivers, the Unduline, and they had crept by night through the rich pastures where grazed the plump cattle and woolly sheep of Lord Dulance, and then they came quickly and quietly up into the highlands. That is where the bookmark wedged. There, damn it, at the most inappropriate place.
If only he had bookmarked the simulation two hours earlier, he might have brought up defenses, if even only his farmers and ranch hands, strong men. They were not soldiers, but they were brave men, and very good men, and he knew them all, personally. The farms, however, were spread out in the lowlands, and many of these good men, along with their families, perished even before the torching of High Vale Manor.
He had tried it, so many ways, so many exhausting, excruciatingly futile ways, twenty times he had tried to save the manor. He had tried riding out to meet the invaders, he had attempted fleeing higher into the rocks and caves above the manor, he had tried leading them away from his people, and it always ended the same way, with Varrashallaine dead, his precious Varra, she died, sometimes in his arms, sometimes he heard them raping her as he lay pinned to the floor by a large, rustic spear. He always lay there, grasping the shaft of the spear in his hands, and he always thought it reminded him of the tetherball pole when he was a child, in the third grade, lying on the ground on his back, legs up and batting the yellow ball with his foot, watching the rope twine around and around, and Varra died.
The love of his life, his soul mate, his most precious person, she died, and there never was anything he could do, no matter how many different ways he tried to change things. He could not save his Varra. And he could not reverse the sim. It wasn’t a game, there was no reboot.
Of course, there was a reboot, but the land would be different, the people different, and Varra would be different, or not there at all.
Six went into the adjoining bathroom and washed his face in the sink, pouring cold water over his close-cropped head, slapping cold handfuls onto the back of his neck. How long had it been since Seven joined him in the break room? Was that just an hour ago? His body shook and trembled worse now than then. He sat on the toilet and drew his knees up to his chest. He must look like Gollum, all sinew and bone, stringy ropes of muscle.
He wished he could use the toilet. That might prove he was human here in RL. But the chamber cleansed him in every way. His kidneys, pancreas, liver, all that goo inside him, it was all sparkly new, fresh off the shelf. His brain aligned and configured and perfect and yet he sat here on a porcelain toilet trembling like an ancient Chihuahua yapper. He sat here weeping, shaking, and terrified to go back to reality. He lifted his hands before his tear-streaked eyes and saw his fingers vibrating with palsy. He concentrated his improved brain and commanded his hands to be still. Peace, be still. If it were possible, his hands shook even more.
Enough. Enough. He unfolded from the toilet and switched off the light. He stumbled and half-tripped back toward the chamber, salvation, and nearly got twisted in the blanket on the floor. He chuckled. Funny. He couldn’t remember Seven’s name. That wasn’t surprising, as he hardly remembered his own name. He was Six, here. Six. Had they exchanged names? He didn’t remember.
The chamber lifted as he neared and he almost threw himself upon the bed. He forced his limbs out straight, and clasped his hands over his heart. The lid descended.
Yes, ah yes, as the darkness congealed and pooled over him, he sighed, and his body relaxed. He did not even need to think…peace, be still.
He stood on the top step of his Inner Sanctum, the red door just behind him. He lifted his right hand just before his face. It was his hand. He held it out level, straight out before him, palm down, and there was nary a tremble.
Six half-skipped down the steps, his bare feet embracing the warm clay of the dojo. As he passed the small round table in the foyer his hand seized the warm sake in the small clay cup and he lifted it to his mouth and belted down the liquor. Yes, that was good.
Just keep your mind off it, do not think of High Vale. Keep that in its compartment.
He stretched his naked body and extended his arms out like the cross, filling his lungs with the warm, humid air. It was so warm here, so rich.
If he wanted, he could always go and live that precious two hours with Varra, once a day, and so live out his life. He might have to do that, always locking the sim prior to that first crash on the front door. He might have to do that.
Six produced a window in the air just before him and glanced over his school itinerary and without any feeling he ticked off with his eyes all his requirements, all his deliverables. He was two months ahead in everything on his double load, two-degree program. He saw he had a pop quiz in Physics. He seized the quiz with his fingertips and pulled it out of the window into a small white piece of paper. Without thinking much he ticked through the quiz, answering each question automatically, and wrote a brief summation of how scientists in the sim were bouncing laser beams off mirrors, looking for jags in reality, and how of course the program itself neatly bent around the experiments, proving to the scientists that everything was right as rain in the universe, that real was real, and that they were all safe, safe and warm in their fuzzy wuzzies.
Six frowned, rubbed out the right as rain with his pinky, then rethinking, he wiped out the bit about the fuzzy wuzzies, glanced briefly over the whole quiz, then signed it by tapping the appropriate spot. Done. He flicked the paper back into the window, and closed it. Well, that was school for the day. School was getting so easy he wondered at whatever could be the point.
He tumbled forward onto the tatami and rolled forward, end over end, and then backward. He did not invest much in exercise in this place, but it seemed to loosen up his brain. He stretched and did some yoga poses, settling into a lotus position.
What if he took Varra up onto the roof, and hid her there just until the fires erupted, then he could get her down over the backside of the house, and they might try circling through the dark…
Just stop it!
Six needed to stop thinking about it, just stop working on the problem. He had to solve it, and the solution would come.
He should have asked Seven. Perhaps she was a gamer. She was certainly bright. Six wished he were that bright, or that he had ever played a video game in his life. He did not like games, any kind of game.
What had the mysterious homeless man said to Seven?
Don’t be afraid. Stop freaking out. Enjoy yourself.
That was the gist. Maybe he needed to relax, come at the problem from a whole new angle.
The thing was, he had spent literal days going back to a three-hour slot of time, and he had faced a living nightmare, over and over again.
Sometimes the seven-foot tall warrior cut him in half, sometimes the brute grasped him in one hand and lifted him up to that face, that face of horror, where it mocked him; but usually it pushed him back with the great head of its ax, not even bothering with him, and an equally tall brute would come in from behind the first warrior and drive the spear through him. He had rerun this so that he sometimes could block the spear, but then the ax took him, and that proved more painful.
Okay, that did no good, to think about the home invasion at the manor. The first time it happened, he was in that drowsy state, just prior to sleep. He and Varra, his cherished wife, his Beloved, in each other’s arms, the afterglow of their lovemaking sweet all about them. And then the door crashed. And the cries began, and torchlight infused the manor as the invaders surrounded and attacked.
Six sighed. Blanked his mind. Took deep cleansing breaths. He stood from the tatami and waved a hand over the bamboo mat, rolling it up, and the floor opened quietly where the clean salty water of his bath reflected light. He stepped down into the bath, descended the five steps until the warm water was at his chest. Just stop freaking out. He lazed in the water, rolling over and over, feeling like an otter. He submerged and swam down into the pool. Just enjoy.
When he was down in the tunnel, he opened his mouth and gulped in a rush of water, allowing the warm salt water to fill his lungs. It was a weird moment, even after all this time, but soon he breathed the water through the gills opening in his neck. The whole experience was very similar to breathing air, except of course it waved in and out much more slowly, much heavier. He loved this slow, languorous crawl through the dark tunnel. The water shimmered with blue light and he could just make out his hands moving before him. He kicked lazily, spiraling through the water. He moved into an undulating porpoise swim, just enjoying, just soothing, just moving.
And then he was out in the open, the night sky full and bright with stars above him. He pulled himself onto a rock that naturally conformed to his body, and he half sat, half reclined, looking up at the stars. He produced a Guinness Stout in a frosty mug, and when he was not sipping at the glass, he allowed it to hang in space near his head. If he listened, he could hear the millions of tiny bubbles exploding on the foamy surface of the stout.
He sighed, luxuriating in the warm water. He heard a ripple out somewhere in the dark. No, he thought, no mermaids, not tonight, I just need to hang out here for a while, just need to sip my stout, and watch the stars. He found Venus, which was always easy, way over there on the edge of the world, and there was Mars, interesting, tonight they were all laid out like a belt across the belly of the sky, Jupiter with its red eye watching him, and Saturn, looking unusually large and clear.
Six sighed, dimly becoming aware that by the time he got to the bottom of the stout, he probably wouldn’t argue too much if the mermaids visited, because they cared. Oh how they cared for him.
Douglas Christian Larsen

“Well? Come on, what do you think?” Jack said, grinning over his own tall cup of coffee.
They had their coffee in big wide-mouthed mugs, on big saucers, long-handled spoons jutting up over the edge of the mugs. This way they could get free refills, and they both agreed they wanted to stay for some time, and talk.
Stacey took another long pull on his coffee. Well, not coffee, not exactly, this was much more like drinking a hot, frothy, coffee milkshake.
“It’s good,” he said, wiping his mouth on a square napkin. “You know, I usually drink my coffee black. This isn’t one of those sugary drinks, is it?”
“No! No! No sugar, that’s honey you taste, but only one teaspoon. They have the raw unfiltered honey here, it’s the best. What else do you taste?”
Stacey drank again, considering. “Okay, cinnamon, of course. No nutmeg, thank goodness. Something else, though, something spicy, a little...bitey.”
“Yes! What is it?”
“Yes! Kind of tastes like gingerbread cookies, right?”
“If you say so,” Stacey said, smirking. “But I usually don’t like cream in my coffee.”
“Right! That’s not cream, it’s steamed almond milk, so what you’re drinking is actually kind of a like a health food drink!” Jack said, practically hopping about on his chair.
“Joy,” said Stacey, then noticing the change in Jack’s expression, he said: “Hey, but I like it. Really. It’s good. Um, it’s like drinking a hot frothy coffee milkshake.”
“Yes! It is! It is!” Jack laughed, bouncing up and down. “And that is strong coffee, too, Italian roast espresso beans. I could drink it all day long.”
“Doesn’t make you nervous?” Stacey smiled, enjoying the coffee more, watching the kid across the small round table.
“Nope, coffee doesn’t make me nervous, not at all. And do you know, I’ve been drinking it since I was five years old,” Jack said, proudly.
Stacey stared at him.
“What?” Jack spluttered, spraying coffee foam. “Another one? Come on, what is it?”
“I started drinking coffee when I was five years old,” Stacey said, softly. “All my life I’ve told people that and they’ve been aghast. Now you just up and tell me that you started drinking coffee when you were five years old, and was it your grandmother, on your mother’s side, that mixed half a cup of whole milk with three teaspoons of sugar?”
Jack stared at him.
“Your Hungarian grandmother?” Stacey said.
“She made polachinta?” Jack returned.
“Do you know, I haven’t heard that word since I was a little boy?” Stacey said. “I loved polachinta. She made real fancy kinds, with cottage cheese and crushed nuts.”
“But your favorite,” Jack said, “your very favorite, that she made especially for you, was with grape jam.”
“When I’ve described it to people, they say I’m talking about crepes,” Stacey said, sadly.
“Yeah, me too. I like polachinta better,” Jack said.
“Me too,” Stacey agreed. “Plus, I think polachinta was thinner than crepes, and I don’t know, just somehow a whole lot better.”
“Exactly,” Jack said, nodding. “But you know, Stacey, you can come over to my house, and my Grandma can fix it for us, today.”
The older man looked at the youth strangely. “I think I might be afraid to meet your Grandma.”
“Because it might actually be your Grandma?” Jack said.
“No…because it—might not be—her,” Stacey replied, too slowly leaning back in his chair. “I don’t know which would be worse.”
“Yeah,” Jack said, leaning back in his chair, “I don’t know, either.”
“My Grandma was more than a second mother to me, in fact, I think she loved me more than any other person in my whole life.
They sat in silence a while, sipping their coffee. The place bustled, but not like a Starbucks. Everyone here seemed to be talking quietly, in hushed tones, as if this was more library than coffee house. Plus, the place was lined with books, stacks of books in every conceivable place, wall-to-wall bookcases, books all along the window ledge. The people were oddball, too, back in the corner Stacey saw a tiny guy on double canes arguing with a giant overflowing from a chair that looked as if it might burst under him at any second. The little guy on canes looked like a movie star, beautiful, only he was obviously under five feet in height. His body looked normal, except that his back might be twisted, but his legs were not only shortened, but damaged in some way.
“We’re not talking about it,” Jack murmured, staring into his coffee, stirring it with a spoon.
“We’re working our way up to it, gradually,” Stacey said, still watching the odd pair in the corner. The giant was boisterous and loud, possibly the only loud person in the whole packed coffee house, with a beard long and unruly, far too long and shaggy to follow any current bearded fashion trend.
Jack looked back to see who Stacey was watching, and he laughed.
“I see those guys all the time, the little guy won’t look at you, and the big guy might come over and hug you if you look at him,” Jack said.
“Really?” Stacey said, bracing himself.
“Well, not literally, I mean he seems to be that kind of person. I’ve actually studied them, made sketches, you know, life sketches, plus I eavesdrop on them sometimes, they’re always here, I make notes, they talk about religion all the time.”
Stacey guffawed. “You eavesdrop? And write down what they say?”
“Well, not to be nosy. Just practicing, getting it down, like in writing, don’t you do anything like that, listen to people? Get the hang of how people talk?”
“Maybe subconsciously. I don’t think I’ve ever eavesdropped on people on purpose. Better be careful, that giant looks like he could pull your arms off.”
Jack snorted. “Not him. He’s the nicest guy. He kind of reminds me of Beorn.”
“The Berserker, Tolkien,” Stacey said. “I was thinking of Hagrid.”
“Yeah, Hagrid!” Jack laughed, “only shorter. Or Beorn, only nicer, not quite as scary.”
“So, Jack,” Stacey said, leaning forward, stirring his coffee. “Saturn.”
“I’m thinking the Government,” Jack whispered.
“The Government?” Stacey said, eyebrows lifted.
“Or aliens,” Jack said. “I figure it’s the Government, doing some kind of hologram experiment. Or aliens, playing with us. Or it could be…God.”
“Or God is an alien that works for the Government,” Stacey replied, smiling into his coffee.
Jack snorted again. Then he laughed.
“Keep looking at your coffee,” Stacey said. “Tall guy, very skinny. Bony, with alien-looking cheekbones, very stubbly gray, expensive clothes, but very ratty old-fashioned sneakers, like basketball shoes. Looks very nice, grandfatherly, hair perfect, beautiful, white, but there’s something really—off about him, as a whole.”
Jack stirred his coffee, looking excited. “Where?” he breathed.
“Back by the fireplace, looking through the books on the hearth, only he’s not really looking at the books,” Stacey said, in soft conversational tones, pretending to study his coffee, but watching the man with his peripheral vision.
“Do you want to treat us to some croissants?” Jack said, grinning.
“Of course I want to treat us to some croissants,” Stacey replied.
Jack was up and moving to the cashier, glancing casually about the room. He ordered two big butter croissants from the beautiful girl behind the counter, and she told him they could pay on the way out. He carried the two croissants back to their table, the two pieces of bread looking like golden alien crabs on the plate.
“I love croissants,” Stacey said, seizing one and biting off an end.
“You know it,” Jack said. “Saw the dude. I’ve never seen him before, but he almost looks like Obi-Wan Kenobi. Or, you know, Old Ben.”
“Did he see you looking at him?” Stacey asked.
“Probably,” Jack said, thoughtfully, “but I looked at him, you know, casually, just glancing around.”
“I think he might be studying us the way you study the guys in the corner,” Stacey said.
Stacey saw the elegant old man at the fireplace lift a book and crack it open, and then he stood there, very relaxed, reading in the light of the fire.
“Could be a coincidence,” Jack said.
“If it wasn’t a coincidence, that would be a coincidence,” Stacey said, grinning. “Today, something happening that wasn’t a coincidence might prove the biggest coincidence.”
“So you’re saying that if something happened that didn’t mean anything or link to anything else, that would be more unlikely than two unlikely things happening that do mean something, especially together?” Jack said, obviously enjoying the mental exercise.
“Yeah,” Stacey said, “something along those lines.”
The little man from the corner came stumping past them on his canes. Stacey watched him, feeling oddly, because it seemed that he knew him, but then that was absurd because if you ever met this guy you wouldn’t easily forget him. The little man glanced directly at Stacey and met his eyes, for just a moment, and then he was past, making slow, painful progress to the cashier. The very pretty girl behind the counter smiled at the little man and Stacey noticed that the man on the canes couldn’t meet the cashier’s eyes. She went around to get something out of the display cases and Stacey watched the little man watch the cashier.
“Wow, is he ever in love with her,” Stacey said under his breath.
Jack glanced to the little drama at the display cases. “Really, you think so?”
“Oh yeah,” Stacey said, “he’s looking at her like a dwarf looking at gold.”
Jack and Stacey abruptly looked at each other, each with their eyebrows cocked.
“That didn’t come out right,” Stacey said, showing his teeth in an exaggerated grimace. “I should have said he’s looking at her like a leprechaun looking at a pot of gold.”
Jack sighed exaggeratedly. “Youch, that came out even worse. Quit while you’re ahead, at least he didn’t hear you. I know what you mean, but for some reason I didn’t think he liked…girls.”
“Oh, he does, and specifically—that one,” Stacey said.
But the little guy was coming back along the corridor between tables, and again he glanced directly into Stacey’s eyes as he passed.
“I feel like I know him, somehow,” Stacey said.
“We could go over and talk to them,” Jack said, rising in his seat, as if ready to hurry over to the table in the corner.
“Oh, no, I’m not that kind of guy,” Stacey said. “I’ve had a problem with shyness all my life.”
“Really? You don’t seem shy to me, not at all,” Jack said.
“Did you ever see Old Ben leave?” Stacey queried.
Jack looked back at the fireplace. The tall old man was gone.
“Weird, I don’t usually lose track of someone like that,” Jack said.
“Me neither. I’ll be right back.”
Stacey rose from the table and hurried across to the fireplace. He had his eye on that book, the one the old man cracked open, and he didn’t want it to do anything ridiculous, like disappearing, as the old man had vanished. Stacey looked around the room, briefly, then caught himself, and looked back at the book he was approaching, thank goodness, it was still there. He seized the book and immediately returned to the table, and placed it near the plate of croissants.
Simulacron-3,” Jack read. “Daniel F. Galouye. Ever read it?”
“No,” Stacey said, almost afraid to touch the book now that he had placed it on the table.
“There’s a piece of paper stuck in it,” Jack said, bending close over the book, but not touching it.
“Probably a bookmark,” Stacey said.
“I’m not going to look at it,” Jack said. “You do it.”
“What’s there to be afraid of?” Stacey said, reaching for the book.
“I’ve got a bad feeling,” Jack said.
Stacey slowly pulled the piece of paper out of the book. It was a thin piece of notepaper, folded once in half lengthwise. Stacey flipped the paper back and forth showing Jack that there was nothing on either side, like a magician preparing to do a trick.
“Go ahead already,” Jack whispered.
With Jack leaning forward to the side, exaggeratedly twisting his spine, and the older man leaning likewise to meet him, Stacey slowly unfolded the paper, opening it so that they could see whatever it was at the very same moment.

Next Episode.

Now Available in Paperback and E-Book, by Douglas Christian Larsen

© Copyright 2016 Douglas Christian Larsen. Vestigial Surreality. All Rights Reserved by the Author, Douglas Christian Larsen. No part of this serial fiction may be reproduced (except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews) or transmitted by any means without the written permission of the publisher, Wolftales UNlimited, but please feel free to share the story with anyone, only not for sale or resale. This work is a work of fiction. People, places, events, and situations are the product of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or historical events, is purely coincidental (wink, wink).

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related terms, ideas, works:
ancestor simulation, digital ark, salvation of humanity,
vestigial surreality, manda project, rocket to saturn,
the singularity, the butterfly effect, simulated reality, matrix,
virtual reality, otherland, the matrix, 1q84, haruki murakami,
hard-boiled wonderland and the end of the world, dreaming,
the dream place, waking from a dream, ready player one,
hologram, holodeck, saturn, saturnalia, cycles of time,
simulacron-3, daniel f. galouye, counterfeit world,
tad williams, science fantasy, science fiction,
Victor Frankenstein, Nikola Tesla, genius
do we live in a computer simulation?
mystery, thriller, horror, techno thriller,
signs and wonders, vestigial surreality,
william gibson, neal stephenson, serial,
cyberpunk, dystopian future, apocalypse,
scifi, mmorpg, online video game world,
end times, apocalypse, armageddon,
digital universe, hologram universe,
sunday sci-fi fantasy serial fiction,
virtual reality, augmented reality
the unknown writer blog
are we living in a simulation?
puppets, puppetry, punch
Elon Musk, Tesla, VR

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