Attempted Idiocide: Jane's Betrayal

Geoff OBrien

Recommended Posts

(Word count: approx. 6,200)



Jane sauntered naked amongst the partygoers.

The mansion’s party room was at least a couple hundred metres long and wide. Chandeliers lined the arched ceiling. Classical marble pillars and floors completed the grand décor. Tables of hors d’oeuvres waited by one wall. A troupe of musicians were set up by another wall.

Jane plucked a glass of wine, then a bite-sized treat from two separate waiters, each of whom bowed their head at her. She worked the crowd, flitting here and there, briefly advising on fasion with a man in a tuxedo, discussing philosophy – the finer points of suspension of consciousness – with a university professor. In between musical numbers, the saxophone player beckoned her over to flirt with her.

Exhibiting herself amongst these clueless beings while wearing nothing at all never got old for Jane. She flaunted her knowledge over them, safe in their ignorance. It almost didn’t matter what sort of beings they were. They begged her to twirl in that dress, or enquired about her shade of lipstick, or groaned with envy over her stiletto boots. They acted as though Jane were as beautiful and sophisticated as Theodora, as wise as Verbovshik.

A pair of children loitered by the hors d’oeuvres. Two little girls wearing plain dresses. They were watching Jane. One whispered in to the other one’s ear, who subsequently raised hands over her mouth to stifle her amusement.

What was this?

Jane strode for them, not taking her eyes off them while ignoring summons, brushing aside questing hands, stepping around a corpulent man. Curious and unwary, they waited for her. Coming closer, Jane pushed down a feeling of uneasiness. One of the girls had lidless eyes, consumed with black, as though her pupils were as wide as her eyes themselves. Tattoos swirled around the other girl’s neck: intricate, repetitive designs of disembodied hands covering human eyes.

Jane halted before them. “See something?”

You’re naked!” they chorused together. The witless fools giggled furiously, enchanted with their observational skills and daring.

A distant boom of thunder penetrated the walls. Was there a storm nearby? The stately party room afforded no windows to view outside.

Vertigo suddenly consumed Jane, a disorientation akin to the sensation of falling on the cusp of sleep. Her feet clamped to the floor, a reflexive action resetting her feeling of weight, of balance, though she had never lost either.

Theodora@Taggart’s Cabin: Wake up, Jane. The trial is over.

Already? The entire party room shuddered, as though gripped by an earthquake. Cracks began splitting stretches of the marble pillars. The ‘guests’ continued on, unaware. The girls peered about, curious.

PlainJane@Taggart’s Cabin: log out home

The next instant she felt herself being gently, yet insistently shaken. A fully-clothed Jane adjusted her eyes. She and Theodora sat at one side of a long table in one of the smaller conference rooms. The two men representing the admiral sat at the other. This was the first time Jane had been ‘invited’ up to the bridge deck of the ocean liner.

Jane wistfully glanced out the nearest window, partly unconcerned with what was transpiring in the room, partly to communicate this to the others – and to herself. Though rarely venturing outside, she wished she could now. Anywhere was better than here. The vista was mostly the same boring view as always: the sun’s rays sparkling off a desert of calm ocean crowded by a clear, endless sky. The only difference now was a faint brown smear on the horizon: the coast line of some island or landmass.

In between gathering papers and standing up from the table, one of the admiral’s men were stealing covert glances at Jane, fascinated by her. Other women might complain of men staring at their breasts or ass. Jane’s ‘admirers’ would stare at the swirling tattoos around her neck, or her lidless eyes, covered by the LED smart contact lenses that were paired with her BCI implant. Later, she knew, the man would be boasting to his buddies that the rumours of the woman with the weird eyes and tattoos around her neck were true; a woman stranger still than most of the weirdos that inhabited the lower decks.

Theodora led Jane out of the conference room and through the corridors of the bridge. As always, the lithe, sensuous woman made Jane feel like a clumsy idiot child. Hungry, envious eyes of the male passersby fixated on Theodora’s bronze skin, her generous cleavage, her golden hair arranged in a tidy ponytail long enough that the end of it rested against her backside. At least she was drawing attention away from Jane.

At the elevator, Theodora tapped down. It wasn’t until the elevator doors closed that she spoke. “I can sympathise with wanting to be elsewhere during a procedure overseen by the admiral’s men.” She tapped the number two. “It’s in your best interest, however, to at least pretend to care about the outcome.”

Theodora, having appointed herself as Jane’s representative at the hearing, had done all the talking. All Jane had to do was sit there, awake and present – an act aided by her contact lenses arranging visual details of Jane’s eyes appropriately.

Who won?” Jane asked idly.

We did, in a manner of speaking. Do you want to know how?”

Not really.”

Try not to fall afoul of TC’s network access rules again, please. I can help only so many times.”

Jane refreshed her Heads-Up Sensory Heuristic. In the upper-right periphery of Jane’s HUSH-assisted vision, an exclamation mark briefly flashed. A message. Jane activated it. Partially transparent monotype text superimposed itself upon her vision.

Hellenist@Taggart’s Cabin: Serious issues with our latest disconnected. Three dead, several injured. Killswitches are likely issue. Will discuss further at staging room. Please come as soon as possible.



Exiting the elevator, Jane followed Theodora – she must have also received Verbovshik’s cast – to the staging room, more out of curiosity than anything else. There, a thin man was pacing. Streaks of white permeated his dishevelled black hair. His grey eyes moved constantly, blurring like skimmed text. Verbovshik was impatient.

Two others were already in attendance: Trarius, the machine-like security muscle-man who never smiled or relaxed, and Larnalil, the broad-shouldered, red-haired nurse who presented as female. The latter was one of the few people aboard Taggart’s Cabin somehow privileged enough to have access to makeup, provided by Theodora. The last three times Jane had asked Theodora about that, she had smoothly reminded Jane that it was the luxury of luxuries, rarely found upon a post-cataclysmic planet, and that as soon as the scavengers found more she would pass it along.

Without ado, Verbovshik said, I’ll need biological material,” in rapid, accented English to Jane and everyone else gathered in the staging room, “from those relevant to this issue.” The restless man indicated a nearby pair of scissors and a glass container, both propped up in one of the empty chairs.

In other words, nothing from Jane, who was now holding her breath. Could this be the opportunity she’d been waiting for?

Predictably, the merest hint of such a mortal threat had the others exchanging worried glances. Trarius the security goon spoke next. “Are we in any danger?” Amazing that his medical heuristic could divert oxygen away from all his muscles to his brain and mouth.

Know-it-all Verbov waved the concern away. “Of course not. My disconnection process is sound.”

Then why the sample collecting?”

I thought that would be obvious: for an experiment. Most here represent an ideal control group. Our most recent disconnected will form an impromptu experimental group, allowing me to test a recent hypothesis of mine regarding updated connected security heuristics. So, before we engage in today’s reconnaisance, I’ll need some biological material from you.” Trarius didn’t move. Neither did Theodora or Larnalil. Verbovshik glared at each of them in turn. “You hesitate? After all we’ve achieved together? After all I’ve done for you?”

Jane, exempt from this latest scheme of his, indicated the glass container. “Whose hair is in there?” she asked him. “Yours?”

Verbov nodded. “Amongst others. I ask nothing of any of you that I wouldn’t ask of myself.”

So magnanimous of you,” Theodora said sarcastically.

Larnalil was the first to step forward. No surprise there. The man-woman just about worshipped Verbovshik. This seemed to help the others decide. Once they each snipped at their hair – their backs obfuscating what they were doing to Jane – Verbovshik said, “Let’s proceed with our next task. When you’re all ready, log on to Heofon. Once you’ve spawned inside, proceed to–”

What about login security?” Trarius asked. “Has Mary updated that, too?” Administrators rarely, if ever, allowed strangers to log in to their sims. Non-connected usually had to hack their way in – and evade detection once there.

To the best of my knowledge, Mary hasn’t changed any aspect of her login security.”

Convince me.”

Few things are certain in this world, as I’m sure you’re aware. Run my login script as usual. If any issues arise, I’ll notice soon enough, and troubleshoot accordingly.” He relaxed in his chair, closed his eyes, and immediately appeared to fall asleep.

The others decided to follow along, including Jane. She mentally summoned a command line after ‘closing’ her eyes, because a dark background better offset the typically white command line text. While the more intuitive imaginavisual interface could be used, a command line was sometimes faster and more efficient.

PlainJane@Taggart’s Cabin: purge Heofon cache --nolog

Plausible deniability thus set, she ran Verbov’s login script.

PlainJane@Taggart’s Cabin: Hellenist.sim-access --Heofon

Hellenist’s psuedo-CAL script, version 0.67.

Logging you in to Heofon...

Error! Incorrect cache data for Heofon(does not match record).

Simulacra login attempt failed and/or stopped. Verbovshik(aka Hellenist) has been notified. PLEASE DO NOT TRY AGAIN, as repeated attempts increases the risk of administrator intervention. Wait patiently for Verbovshik to cast you and diagnose your problem.

Opening’ her eyes, Jane stared at the glass container of biological material. Verbov was taking his time. At last, her HUSH automatically dimmed her vision to better eliminate visual noise in favour of new command line text placed in the foreground.

Hellenist@Heofon: What happened?

PlainJane@Taggart’s Cabin: no clue

Hellenist@Heofon: The rest of us can’t stop now. This is too important. I’ll cast someone else to join us. We’ll diagnose your problem later. In the meantime, why don’t you take the biological material to D room? One of Larnalil’s assistants will meet you there.

PlainJane@Taggart’s Cabin: okay

Better and better. He was practically going out of his way to do everything Jane wanted. She rose, moved past the staging room’s sleeping occupants and fetched the container of biological material.

The cramped D room was deserted. Besides the medical cot with it’s restraints, D room’s most interesting feature was it’s human-sized annapod, the only one of it’s kind aboard the entire ocean liner.

Hmm…what was that? Jane peered through the annapod’s cylindrical transparent glass casing. Usually, the nutritive solution filling it was completely clear. Over there, however, was a barely noticeable splotch of… something. About the size of her fingernail, the splotch had a white-ish colour, like milk. What was it?

Some minor aberration. It didn’t matter. Jane held up the container of biological material, considering it. What she was about to do would feel weird. It was the only method she could immediately think of. This wouldn’t matter either, not for long.


She gasped and whirled around. One of Larnalil’s assistants.

Oops, sorry. Hey, one of our disconnected almost started a riot in the asylum. They need me for a while. Be alright on your own?”

Now Jane’s heart was racing for a different reason. “No problem,” she said, as nonchalant as she could manage.

Now. She wouldn’t ever have a better opportunity than now.

She crept outside to monitor the assistant’s progress. As soon as he was out of sight, she retreated inside D room then shut the metal-enforced door. This automatically engaged it’s electronic locking mechanism, which by design, couldn’t be opened from the inside. Opening it from the outside would take anywhere between a few seconds to a few minutes. Then just as long, if not longer, to decide what to do about Jane.

That was enough time.

She opened the glass container, took a fortifying breath, then raised it and tipped it into her mouth, attempting to suck down or lick up it’s contents. Some of the strands of hair within were troublesome, but soon enough, she had either swallowed everything or at least trapped it inside her mouth.

Then Jane stripped as fast as she could. She wasn’t sure whether her clothes would get in the way, but she wasn’t going to risk it. Naked, she awkwardly scrambled up the annapod’s somewhat slippery glass casing, paused at the top, then slid in feet first, submerging herself in the nutritive solution. It was shockingly cold, stealing her breath. Rather than acknowledge her clamouring survival instincts, let alone act upon them, she summoned a command line.

The quicker she could log out of reality, the quicker her discomfort would disappear. Her body would function just fine on it’s own, and her consciousness would be transported to inside the sim.

PlainJane@Taggart’s Cabin: login to Heofon

User PlainJane approved by administrator Mary.

Logging you in to Heofon...

Jane fell asleep.



Wooden pews and stained glass windows. Walls and ceiling of stone. Jane had spawned inside a church. Two men waited for her. The solemn, emaciated man with a pinched face held a strung bow, though no arrow was nocked. The glowering burly man had a massive mace stapped to his back.

Guys, what’s with the medieval weaponry?” Jane teased. “You don’t need those in sims.” To demonstrate, she raised her arms, braced, then whimmed, spawning a rocket launcher to rest upon one of her shoulders. Her legs buckled under the bulky weapon’s heavy burden until she hastily changed it’s weight properties. To the thralls’ credit, they didn’t flinch at the sight of the weapon, or it being aimed at them. Perhaps they didn’t know it was a weapon.

What next? Merely throwing the rocket launcher away would be boring. Firing at Mary’s messengers would be fun – freaking them out, pissing them off, and possibly necessitating them to respawn if she ‘killed’ them – yet that risked ruining the deal by crossing a line. Fire the launcher somewhere else?

Jane leaned backward, stretching impossibly far at her waist, so that the launcher’s barrel faced up. She squeezed the trigger, causing the weapon to hiss when it ejected it’s payload. The rocket ignited, producing a baleful roar that shouted down the church’s hush. The men winced and covered their ears while the rocket streaked away and exploded into the church’s stony rib vault ceiling. Falling debris prompted the men to curse and jump back. Jane simply whimmed a barrier around her. The men glanced at each other, troubled at the sight of cascading chunks of rock inexplicably bouncing or rolling off her. Tinkling glass and crumbling stone added to the cacophony.

Bowman finally addressed the issue by pretending none of it had happened. “Why do you stare at everything, girl?” he challenged. “Don’t you ever blink?”

Not in reality, no. Jane may have constructed her saemerself with normal eyes that included eyelids to fit in better, but she wasn’t used to having them or using them. She batted them at him now, which seemed to disconcert him even more. That was fun. “Get to the point,” Jane warned them, “or I’ll disconnect your asses. See how you get along in the real world without Mary to cradle and suckle you.”

What do you–?” Bowman started to speak over Jane, then his eyes flashed, confusion forgotten after hearing Jane speak their so-called mother’s name. “Leash your blasphemous tongue, lest I cut it free.” His brother didn’t bother to speak, instead reaching back to extract his spiked mace and swing it in the one motion.

Jane couldn’t resist showing off. She whimmed to become incorporeal, fading almost completely while the thrall’s mace swung impotently through her, then emerged back to normal. Enraged at his failure, the burly bully swung again, for the same result when Jane briefly vanished again. Rematerialising, she sweetly said, “Problem?”

Enough.” Bowman threw out a restraining arm to block his brother. “Mother waits. She bade us to meet with this demon, not duel with her.”

The reminder of Mary subsided the maceman more than anything else. “The moment Mother is finished dealing with this demon, I will cleanse this realm of it, in Her name.”

Bowman and Jane alike ignored the boast. “Do you have the flesh of the infidels that Mother asked for?” he asked her.

Show me what I was promised,” Jane demanded.

Bowman reached behind a pew to pick up a scroll that he handed to Jane. She suspected it was more than it appeared. Her suspicions were confirmed when she touched it, triggering files to begin uploading to her: whitepapers and design documents detailing how she could acquire what she needed, what she lacked, what Verbovshik and the others had. Odd that someone like Mary, so enmeshed in her mystic stone-age simulacrum, would possess such a treasure trove of cataclysm-era information, to say nothing of handing it over to Jane so readily. Perusing the scroll, she could guess why. She would need Mary’s assistance to complete the process.

The flesh of the infidels?” Bowman prompted Jane.

She spat at his face for reply. That was fun. After a shocked instant, the burly one collected himself enough to raise his mace. At the same time, Bowman moved again to prevent him. Glaring a warning at Jane, the latter raised a hand to wipe away the spittle.

Jane waggled a finger. “Uh uh. Your ‘flesh of the infidels’ is in that.” She could have given the biological data to them in any number of ways. This was more fun.

Her assertion stayed his hand. He examined her, not quite daring to wipe away her disrespect yet. “That’s impossible.”

I can prove it.”


Lick it up.” Jane laughed at the expression on his face. She could get used to ordering idiots around. “Further sensing and consuming it will allow your sipsu to glean all the biological data and cast them to Mommy. Ask her if you don’t know what that means.”

What is… ‘sipp-soo’?”

Aww, he tried to understand anyway. Adorable, like a toddler attempting to touch-type by whapping his hands against a keyboard. “Simulacrum Psuedo-Sense Unit.” Jane chuckled. His face! Such a buzz to give him information that he couldn’t possibly understand. Hilariously, the thrall would have to take Jane’s assertions on faith, just like he did with Mary. Neither of these fools knew what a simulacrum was, let alone the fact that they existed within one. Their ignorance gave Jane a thrilling sample of her power over them, the same power that administrators like Mary wielded.

Jane thrust out a provocative hip, enjoying their grimace of distaste of being propositioned by a ‘demon’. “Go on then. Eat me.”

With the tip of his forefinger, Bowman dabbed at his cheek, collecting a sizeable portion of her spittle there, then inserted that finger in to his mouth. Jane stared, burning with an unexpected flush of desire while his mouth worked. Not quite sexual desire – the only way she would touch one of them was via more spit – but something similar: the rush of power, of domination. She could definitely get used to ordering thralls around.

Maceman’s body suddenly slackened, as though he were about to faint. Before that could occur, something seemed to seize him. Despite loosened legs, he remained upright. His jaw slackened, his mouth fell open, and a voice that was not his own rolled out, a voice as dry and old as bound papyrus.

I am pleased.”

The ancient woman’s voice skittered through Jane’s ears and gnawed at her mind. She belatedly clapped her hands against her ears in a futile effort to shut it out. After a shaky breath, Jane forced herself to drop her hands. None of this was real. Remember that! Ironic, needing to reassure herself that way. That voice though…

Mary was living up to her reputation.

Glad to hear it,” Jane croaked, trying and failing to act casual. “So, the others are dead, then?” The administrator’s statement implied that she’d been able to make use of the biological material to successfully target, then activate the others’ killswitches. “You’ve ended them?”

What you provided enabled me to breach your confederates’ defenses to release their souls from their bodily prisons, which exist no longer.”

Speak plain,” Jane dared to say. She had to make sure. “They’re really dead?”

Yes.” The horrid voice coming out of the twitching man’s mouth somehow sounded amused. “They’re really dead.”

Good.” Jane rubbed her hands together. “Good. I’ve completed my side of our bargain,” she prodded, wanting Mary’s assurance that she would follow through.

Serving faithfully gains my favour. Stating the obvious does not.”

Jane held her breath.

Nevertheless, you have served well. You shall ascend.”

Jane slumped in relief. At last, she would be free.

Hellenist@Heofon: You disappoint me, Jane.



Also in Heofon, Verbovshik had been observing the entire exchange from half a world away, ensconced within a deeply buried bunker full of electronic gadgetry, ingenious devices that, in the imperfect realm, could spy on any exposed spot upon the entire planet. He’d spawned it all within Heofon himself – given enough time combined with a sustained personal effort and discomfort bordering on pain – inspired by technologies invented long ago, during the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. This bunker’s very creation and existence challenged the antiquated esthetic of the Heofon simulacrum. Prior to casting Jane, he wiped all evidence of the compound’s existence. It wouldn’t do for Mary to gain such powerful tools.

Despite the risk of warning Jane, Verbovshik had needed to cast his intentions first, if only by implication. Within pre-cataclysm archives, he had discovered that the most enlightened and effective modern law enforcement organisations had not only served their constituencies, they had considered themselves accountable to them. Though few – perhaps none – would know but he, Verbovshik would honour those noble sentiments.

Immediately after issuing warrant, so to speak, Verbovshik spawned himself within the church, presenting his saemerself in the guise of Zeus, the ancient Greek god. Overly theatrical, of course, yet entirely necessary – plus a bit of harmless fun. The sudden, inexplicable appearance of such a stern apparition, half again as tall and wide as any human, draped in heavy robes and heavier threat, understandably shook the composure of Mary’s thralls, who gaped and cringed.

Such was the point. Trembling in their current state of existential terror, the thralls’ self-confidence was momentarily shaken, leaving them psychically vulnerable; easy pickings for another master.

Verbovshik seized them.

As luck would have it, their actual master maintained her connection to them, so Verbovshik would have only this moment to take advantage of his increase in power until Mary reassumed control. It would be enough. As a spacecraft increased it’s power by timing a sudden thrust to take advantage of a celestial object’s gravity well, so would Verbovshik increase his power by momentarily taking advantage of these pitiable, passive-minded unfortunates.

Larnalil@Taggart’s Cabin: Entire cell culture is dead. Nothing lives.

So. Jane had gone through with it. Saddening, to confirm those suspicions.

Meanwhile, Verbovshik’s first task was to level this playing field. Engaging Jane – no amateur to simspace – immediately was too risky. When Mary resumed control of her thralls, Verbovshik would be effectively surrounded. This being simspace, he wouldn’t die if captured, not immediately. Compared to what Mary would do to him, however, death would likely be preferable. He wouldn’t let it come to that. At the first hint of serious danger, he would protect himself and escape by logging out – or try to.

Thus, he first wielded his temporarily elevated power by cordoning off Jane’s section of the church, forming an enclosing barrier so solid that it would not only be impenetrable, it’s dense mass would suck away the air within, creating a vaccuum. Being suddenly trapped and unable to breathe should occupy Jane for a sufficient period of time.

Next, Verbovshik began a process of forcibly disconnecting Mary’s two thralls. Given their ignorance of the simspace they occupied, this was as simple as searching their saemerselfs for all-too-common vulnerabilities to exploit, much the same way as hackers scanned software for broken access controls, buffer overflows, misconfigurations and the like.

Within moments, the two thralls vanished, as did Verbovshik’s elevated power – and Mary’s capacity for interference. Thankfully, to the best of Verbovshik’s knowledge, no one – including administrators like Mary – knew how to effect one’s whims beyond one’s sense perception in simpace. Short of Mary herself or another one of her thralls arriving in the vicinity, she could no longer effectively interfere.

A subtle cracking pop announced the disintegration of the barrier surrounding Jane. The red-faced woman was lowered upon one knee, struggling to breathe, until she noticeably took hold of herself and stood with suddenly regained vigour, her breathing and the colour of her face returning to normal.

Who are you?” she demanded.

The question puzzled him. “Verbovshik.” Who else would he be?

Nice try. You can’t be him, whoever you are, disguising yourself with his face, his body. Mary killed him, and his friends, using the biological material that I gave her to trigger their killswitches.”

Mary ‘triggered’ a clump of blastocysts,” Verbovshik corrected, “previously grown from the biological material that you stole. That material was provided by certain volunteers, not I or the others. Didn’t you notice the discoloured area of the annapod’s nutritive solution? That was the cell culture Larnalil had been tending. She has reported that that culture is lifeless, proof of your treachery.”

A convenient story.”

A truthful story, with the exceptions of my initial cast detailing dead and injured disconnected, as well as the parts I gave everyone else to act out.” Verbovshik sighed. “Why, Jane? Why did you scheme to have us killed?”

She scoffed. “Like I’m telling you anything.” Her body abruptly wavered and shimmered like a mirage. Several of Verbovshik’s heuristics gave warning. He focused, triggering a running background process to immediately change the ‘mass’ of almost every existent within sensory range to extreme levels, effecting a surge of ‘gravity’ that would effectively trap her here. The only existential exception to his action was Jane’s body, as trying to change her directly amounted to an act of force, something that she would better anticipate and defend against.

She could yet counter this particular process of his and respawn elsewhere, but only by possessing and making use of particular knowledge of physics – within a simular context – or by countering with an overwhelming, administrator-esque amount of brute force. Lacking both, all Jane could do was growl in frustration when she rematerialised.

Verbovshik hoped she would try logging out next, though she would probably guess that her body, resting within D room’s annapod, would be covered. Her best course of action would be to re-establish contact with Mary or her thralls, try to finish what she’d started.

Wary of further attempts to escape, Verbovshik drawled, “Remember with whom you speak. You know of my experiments.” Verbovshik implored her with his hand. “I must know why. I don’t intend to waggle my finger at you.”

No,” she snarled, “only to deliver me to those who would.”

I must learn,” Verbovshik implored. “If you would tell me, I promise to let you go.”

Yeah, right.”

I can’t speak for anyone else, however.” A pinch of truth to offset his seasoning of lies. “I’ll tell them that Mary helped you overpower me, that I was forced to log out. However long it may take someone to decide to execute your body is however long you’ll have to enact a more preferable solution.” Verbovshik could imagine at least two.

She sampled his testimony, chewed upon it. Sagging with sudden weariness, she flopped down upon the nearest pew. “I can’t stand it any more.”

Stand what?”

Everything. That tattered world. Reality.” She cackled. “Or whatever you call it. ‘The impossible realm’.”

The imperfect realm,” Verbovshik corrected. “And I can sympathise.” Her admission disturbed him, representing this unexpected emotional connection they shared. Or was Jane lying, manipulating him, knowing the admission would draw his sympathy? He needed more data. “The imperfect realm is as stubborn as stone, refusing to give up it’s secrets easily, if at all. Simulacra, by contrast, are much more vibrant, accommodating, expressive, malleable. Quite a pity, really, to have to return to the imperfect realm at intervals.”

What if we didn’t have to?” The statement energised Jane enough to make her sit up. She spoke with more enthusiasm. “What if we could exist in sim forever? No logging in or out, no connection or disconnection. Life without limitations. No more being tethered to reality. I – we could be free.”

Troubling. “You’re hardly the first to consider that. Others have tried living in sim indefinitely, pre- and post-cataclysm. It’s one of the reasons why humanity fell.” Thinking of the principle behind the idea, Verbovshik added,Perhaps the reason.”

I knew you wouldn’t agree with me. That’s why I had to go behind your back. And humanity didn’t ‘fall’. We evolved – as you know full well, otherwise we wouldn’t be here. Nor would Mary and her thralls. Nor other administrators and their thralls. Stop being so dramatic.”

Whomever survived managed to do so through sheer luck.”

Or because they were the fittest, the most adaptive. They adjusted to their situation, becoming what they needed to be: administrators and thralls, working together.”

Please don’t insult my intelligence. Subjugation is not cooperation.”

Where it isn’t, it could be. I have it planned – had it planned,” Jane corrected bitterly. “I wouldn’t be an administrator, or a thrall, but a combination of both. Imagine it! Wielding the existence-altering power of an administrator, encapsulated within the blissful ignorance of a thrall.”

How? Almost, I would wish to behold such a twisted abomination. You would be a tyrant and a slave?”

The best of both, the worst of neither.”

Madness. How had Verbovshik missed these tendencies within her? Too engrossed in his own work? Unlike most of his allies, Jane had never been connected. Must one have been enslaved to truly appreciate freedom? Perhaps he should leave her for an administrator to claim after all. So why go to Mary for–?”

A church wall exploded. Stony shrapnel whizzed past them. Some of it would have hurled into and through them, likely ‘killing’ them, were it not for their reflexive, hastily raised barriers. Verbovshik momentarily struggled with inexplicable sensations akin to lightening and loosening as something forcibly stopped his running process of high mass, undoing all of it’s effects.

Within the new breach in the wall, hunched forward over her sturdy and artistic stone cane, was a haggard, wizened woman wearing a faded white cilice that covered most of her skeletal body. Her wash-watered eyes, nearly devoid of colour, bulged as though something from within pressed against them, yearning to escape.



Time slowed while Verbovshik split his focus to run commands and scripts simultaneously.

Hellenist@Heofon: Hellenist.sim-access --Heofon

Hellenist@Heofon: logout Heofon

Hellenist’s psuedo-CAL script, version 0.67.

Logout failed. Permission denied.

Logging you out of Heofon...

Contact administrator.

Error. Ports blocked by administrator.

Problematic, though not unexpected. Escape wouldn’t be that easy. Bit by barely perceptible bit, Mary’s non-cane hand began rising. Could Verbovshik respawn elsewhere within Heofon? Relocate beyond her sense perception?

Hellenist@Heofon: Hellenist.sim-respawn --self --random

Hellenist@Heofon: saemerself respawn --random

Saemerself respawn failed. Destination Mount Sinai out of range(pointer unreachable or doesn’t exist).

Saemerself respawn failed. Location Babel Tower invalid or doesn’t exist.

Some ineffable aspect of Mary’s presence, the force of her will, or both likely affected every existent within her sense perception. This would forcibly prevent any of it, including Verbovshik, from being able to respawn elsewhere, to a different area of the sim, one less affected by her.

Have fun,” Jane said.

By the time Verbovshik glanced in her direction, she was disappearing. She didn’t matter now. Mary pointed at him, obviously preparing to whim something. Anticipating what it would be, Verbovshik whimmed at the same time, spawning a metal pole between them, it’s bottom wedged within the church floor. Mary’s bolt of lightning struck it instead of him. Thunder boomed, shaking the church’s foundations and piercing his ears, causing enough pain to prompt him to compartmentalise his ears away from his awareness. Thin fissures of silent strain split through the stony church walls. Mary’s mouth moved, speaking words he couldn’t hear.

He paused, belatedly realising he had spawned something new in to…no, no time to ponder that now. Mary was raising her other hand as well – her unsupported stone cane remained upright – to further hone her focus for who-knew what purpose. Verbovshik didn’t intend on staying and discovering what it would be. The metal pole remained. Good. Time to experiment. He could have ran toward the pole. Instead, he whimmed, wondering if he could respawn there…

and then was beside it. Good. Mary couldn’t or wouldn’t prevent his moving about within her sense-percepted influence. His idea seemed viable.

He concentrated fully upon the metal pole, partly preparing to change it’s properties, partly anticipating resistance from Mary. While he felt mental pressure – his eyes struggled to remain on target as their muscles wanted to relax; his mind’s eye, as it were, felt the same – it wasn’t as much as he’d anticipated. She was too focused on what she was doing – her cane-hand was nearly hovering at the same height as her non-cane hand – or she didn’t care about what he was doing, or both.

Consequently, Verbovshik was able to effect a change in the pole’s height – a massive change. The metal pole suddenly thrust upward like a mythical beanstalk, through a convenient hole in the church roof. Up and up into Heofon’s murky sky stretched the metal pole, growing higher every second, until he could no longer discern it’s tip. He knew it continued to grow, because beside him, the pole’s width was burgeoning accordingly, grinding against, then through the church floor. The widened base of the metal pole base blocked Mary’s view of him, giving him an extra second while she shifted her position to compensate.


As additional information is sometimes needed to bridge a gap between two concepts, so too did the recently changed metal pole now bridge a gap between Mary’s sense-percepted region of Heofon and elsewhere, far away from her, where Verbovshik needed to be. Thus did he reach out and touch the metal pole, thereby to respawn himself at it’s pinnacle.

The next instant, frigid air roared around him. He began falling until he hastily extended his arms and legs to wrap himself around the much-thinner section of metal pole, exposed in this desolate, thinly oxygenated space. Clinging to the pole, he felt like a damsel in distress from a pre-cataclysm movie. Gasping and shivering, hyper-aware of the passing seconds, he nonetheless luxuriated in savage satisfaction, clenching a fist in triumph. Success! Verbovshik had respawned within Mary’s area of influence as much as away from it, via one of it’s existents, the metal pole.

Two sensations warned him: plunging from a lack of support, and the feel of rising heat from below. Was Mary melting the pole? Why she hadn’t followed him up here was anyone’s guess.

Hellenist@Heofon: Hellenist.sim-respawn --self --Athens

The avid audience sat on the edge of their stone seating at the amphitheatre, wondering what would happen next. It was night here as well. Verbovshik, sitting at the far end of one line of patrons, eased out a long sigh of relief. His sudden presence and noise startled people nearby, whose exclamations were shushed by others. While Verbovshik would be more anonymous amongst the connected, he wasn’t safe yet. Haunted by uneasy thoughts of a deus ex machina, Verbovshik retreated to find a quiet, secluded spot where he wouldn’t be interrupted.

Hellenist@Heofon: Hellenist.sim-access --Heofon

Hellenist’s psuedo-CAL script, version 0.67.

Logging you out of Heofon...

Error! Ports blocked. Administrator is actively monitoring and blocking commonly used ports. Attempting to access other ports...


Failed to discover available ports. Cloaking saemerself using data, activities and parameters of existing connected and/or logged in user(s)...


Ports found.

Logging you out of Heofon...


Verbovshik’s eyes fluttered open. He was safe, returned to the imperfect realm – D room, specifically, aboard the ocean liner. Trarius, his muscular security man, waited nearby, the gorgeous Theodora with him. Verbovshik had been sitting in the staging room when he’d first logged on to Heofon. Now, he and most of the relevant others – including Larnalil, whose ringlet-arranged auburn hair and eager face suggested a countenance that was perhaps out of place during this sombre moment – were here in D room. Trarius must have carried Verbovshik’s body here while he’d been asleep.

Jane’s body rested peacefully inside the nutritive-solution-filled annapod. The innocent-looking would-be murderer wasn’t yearning to be born, but to be aborted.

Seeing Verbovshik’s opening eyes, Trarius wasted no time in striding to the annapod and climbing it. No one spoke while he reached down in to the annapod, grasped it’s occupant around the neck, then hoisted her up and out to toss her body aside to the floor below. Limp flesh and lively water splattered D room’s floor. Trarius jumped off the annapod, crouched beside Jane’s head then twisted it with a savage flourish. His swift execution was all the more chilling for his utter lack of apparent emotion.

She has likely escaped us,” Verbovshik informed him, “via Heofon and Mary.”

Not for long,” Trarius said with apparent calm. “We will find either her new body, or irrefutable evidence that she exists no longer. Assuming the former, you will then disconnect her while I leave and fetch her to face justice.”

A solid plan.” It would remain secondary, however, to Verbovshik’s primary plan, started prior to this whole sorry situation unfolding: disconnecting the Chinese woman.


  • Like 1
Link to comment
Share on other sites


I took some time off and read this through for a first time.

There are several things we could talk about, but I think we have to deal with the foundation.

And please, do not consider any critical comment as bashing. You have talent.

So let me start right there, with your talent. You are super comfortable expressing short-term situations and action and dialogue. They flow and they give me good inner story images. You do this well.

Now for the not so good part. I swear, I could not make heads or tales of what your different characters wanted or intended. Nor why they acted the way they did, that is medium-term. Short-term I was able to understand them.

(This was on first read, granted, but it needs to be fixed.)


I suspect you are saving information in order to gradually reveal it to the audience. However, I think you task the audience with too much ability to understand the unknown. Things that are obvious to you, from living with your story in your head, are not at all obvious to the audience. Out here, we only have your words to go on. There is a technical term for this, too: curse of knowledge.

I want to go deep (that is, if you were willing), but I just don't have the time yet.

However, I can point to one element (among several others) that will dispel a hell of a lot of confusion for the reader. It's the process of setup and payoff. From what I was able to feel, you mostly do this backwards. You payoff an idea, then explain it as you go along. (By the way, I really like how you pepper information in with action and dialogue rather than stopping the flow of the story and merely describing the situation or person or whatever--that is, except for the description of the party room, which clunked for me).

The thing that keeps readers reading is based on the way the human mind is made. The way all people's minds work. We do questions, then answers as our nature flow of thinking. Not answers, then explanations for what the questions should have been. A question gives a sense causality. A sudden item without context gives the impression of jumpy chaos. (But sudden items are good when used on purpose for fresh news or a surprise.)

And--to jump far far ahead--when we do stories in words, we are by necessity using a linear form of communication.

A movie screen can show a whole lot of information in one instant. With words, we have to give that information out along a timeline. Try to describe just one frame of a film and you will see what I mean. So, to learn how to do that linearly, but give the impression of immediacy, we have to use different techniques. Setup and payoff is one of those techniques.


Here is just one example from the beginning. (If I were editing this, I would have at least 10 pages of notes and questions. :) ) But I have to keep it to only example right now.

This opening line of yours is a payoff line: Jane sauntered naked amongst the partygoers.

Why? Because it causes a strong visceral reaction in the reader. Sex is a primary drive. So, before the reader is aware this is a party, or where it is or what it looks like, or anything, they know that Jane is naked and waking around. OK. You got my attention, but so what? Oh... partygoers. So there is a party... 

This is how the reader thinks on first reading. Notice how he no longer thinks about the impact of Jane's nakedness as he reads your description. And I get it, you wanted to start with a splash to get the reader's attention.

But note, Jane's nakedness is far more shocking, or at least far more impactful, once a party setting is established with clothed people. That's what makes it a setup and payoff.

You soften them up, then you knock them down. :) 

I would set this up with a description of the situation, then payoff with Jane's nakedness (which, granted, causes further questions and future setups), then give the reactions of people around. Here is a quick example of what I mean. I will use your description of the room even though I am not crazy about it. Hopefully you will see what I mean:

Here is what you wrote:

Jane sauntered naked amongst the partygoers.

The mansion’s party room was at least a couple hundred metres long and wide. Chandeliers lined the arched ceiling. Classical marble pillars and floors completed the grand décor. Tables of hors d’oeuvres waited by one wall. A troupe of musicians were set up by another wall.

Jane plucked a glass of wine, then a bite-sized treat from two separate waiters, each of whom bowed their head at her. She worked the crowd, flitting here and there, briefly advising on fasion with a man in a tuxedo, discussing philosophy – the finer points of suspension of consciousness – with a university professor. In between musical numbers, the saxophone player beckoned her over to flirt with her.

Exhibiting herself amongst these clueless beings while wearing nothing at all never got old for Jane...


Here is an adaptation I did using setup and payoff.

Jane looked out over the dapper crowd. The party room was a couple hundred metres long and wide and bespoke well of the mansion. Chandeliers lined the arched ceiling. Classical marble pillars and floors completed the grand décor. Tables of hors d’oeuvres waited by one wall. A troupe of musicians were set up by another.

Jane sauntered out--naked--and took a glass of wine and a bite-sized treat from two separate waiters. Both bowed their heads in deference. She walked into the crowd to blend in, as much as a naked woman could blend, flitting here and there, briefly advising on fashion with a man in a tuxedo, discussing philosophy – the finer points of suspension of consciousness – with a university professor. In between musical numbers, the saxophone player beckoned her over to flirt.

Exhibiting herself amongst these clueless beings while wearing nothing never got old for Jane....


On another point, readers cannot keep guessing at the overall intentions of your characters without tuning out over time. They get bored. Here's how David Mamet puts it--the clarity he wants to give readers--when he writes scenes:

Who wants what?
What happens if they don't get it?
Why now?

When you rework passages using something like this as a guide, things start to become compelling real fast for the reader.

Note. You don't need exact answers for each question. You do need to convey that the characters know--or believe they know--the answers, though. And the clearer you can make this to the audience, the more you can hold your readers in a story trance.

I also learned something fascinating the other day. It's not just "who wants what?" It's also, "what does each character want from the other character(s)"?

(That's a whole other discussion. :) )

Unfortunately, I don't have the time right now to use your excerpt to illustrate any of this.


Anyway if this approach bothers you, I will stop. But if you like it, we can do this a lot as we go along. (I am not a teacher per se. I am a sharer of information I have earned--learned too, but earned--through lots and lots of study and trying things out. And I am always learning, so no doubt I will find things from you to guide me.)

I believe you have excellent images and a rich font of actions. Some decent characterizations. But there are gaps in your techniques that get in the way of turning them into stories that will grip readers and keep them turning the page. I was going to cover this--and several other things--in your earlier post. I still will if you wish.

Please understand, I am not bashing. On the contrary, you are on one helluva bucking horse and it makes me smile to look out on it. Once you've broken him in...



Link to comment
Share on other sites

G’day Michael,


First, thank you for your post. I do appreciate that you took the time and effort to critique my efforts. With my response here, I may occasionally come across as vague – I’m very conscious of (and welcome!)any and all judgements/reactions being based purely on my submitted work. I therefore don’t want to ‘pollute’ such judgements/reactions with my reactions afterwards – ‘but you don’t get it; I was explicitly trying to do this and that’, etc. If one person says something, I may take it with a grain of salt. If several people are saying the same thing…


(Should any one else wish to chime in – whether to briefly judge, react or whatever – I really do welcome and appreciate it. Pretty much all of my writing has been done on my own, with little-to-no feedback from others.)


Michael, your first impressions, notes and suggestions were interesting reading. They’ve informed me enough of issues with this piece that I’ll incorporate in to a future version(s)(more of that in my next post). For archival and educational purposes, I’ll leave my submission as it is here without further editing.


Given some of your feedback, including your re-written example, I’m not entirely sure you’ve gleaned what I was trying to show for the first half of the first scene(my word for any given block of prose I write; ie, my submission here includes five scenes).

Basically, I will assume this is on me: at this point, I believe a quick content edit should suffice. Perhaps this is due to my use of the word partygoers, alone, at the end of my first sentence. At the time, I was thinking of a specific context(curse of knowledge)…which I now realise I may have failed to communicate/indicate(in that sentence, at least), because this party could be any one of a number of kinds of party – kid’s birthday party, company launch party, fancy-dress fundraiser, etc.

Jane’s nakedness, in the party-based context I had in mind, was intended to show certain concepts and/or states of mind which I haven’t seen you mention. Again, I’ll assume this is on me.


Finally, any time you wish to post critique and/or ideas based on me, my posts, submitted content here or elsewhere, public or private, go for it! Or not. Whatever works for you. Whether you or anyone else posts one line or an essay, I’ll read it, evaluate it and possibly take it on.



Next up, I’ll post some additional, non-story-based explanatory context. In other words, briefly outline my motivations for this submitted piece.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

I had several explicit goals in mind, writing this piece. Trying to serve all of these goals has almost certainly affected it’s composition. In order of importance:


  1. Writing a short story that would stand on it’s own – though this has likely been affected by my goals below. Posting the short story here, I could hopefully garner some support and critique. Some time after that, I could upload a revised/polished version to my website to serve goals below.

  2. Writing an introductory story for my Philosophy of Life series/concept – though probably not the introduction, as that should be via a hero, rather than a villain. The extent to which readers may not have liked my piece here is the extent to which they may not like Existence(my first PoL novel), as that novel’s style, characters, pacing and content(during the last quarter), are basically the same.

  3. Writing a ‘reward’ or ‘extra’ short story for readers/fans of Existence. In that novel, I decided to cut some content with respect to a particular character and tie-off that character’s subplot somewhat. Some of that content has been reproduced here.
    The more content I end up producing throughout my life, and the extent to which I am commercially successful(if ever), is the extent to which I want to populate my website and/or online spaces with
    more publicly accessible ‘extras’ like this piece.

  4. It’s been several years since I last completed a short story; ie, something between 500-5000 words. Having said that, this piece may be less of a short story, per se, than a novel-esque treatment of a delimited series of events. Though it’s short, I wrote it pretty much as I write novels. This may be as error-prone as a marathon runner, for example, training for 400 metre sprint events by simply doing more jogging.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now