Thursday, July 5, 2018

7/5/18

Sea Brutes
By David Castlewitz


When players arrived, night disappeared. Even when they entered the game-space at midnight, morning dawned. They were sea brute riders, these game players, who competed for titles and prizes while racing and fighting in the virtual ocean.

Like everyone in the game-play village, Yosuf answered the claxon’s call and hurried to work. Outside the huts of sticks and waddle, women wove baskets, made needles from dried-out fish bones, scraped the fleshy side of a sea wolf's hide with a sharp-edged stone, or tended a small fire under a black kettle of ever-boiling water. Men mended nets at the dock or grumbled to one another as they prepared lateen sail boats for the morning foray to the fishing pens.

Yosuf’s role as a user’s helper required a minimum of verbal communication, utmost politeness, and extreme attention to the intricacies of fitting players into their game suits. Every setting had to be correct; every dial positioned correctly; each strap buckled in a precise manner and every helmet fitted to the user's head. Game world hurts readily translated to real world damage, from aches and pains to shattered limbs and crushed bones.

First-timers often laughed a lot. Yosuf wondered if they were afraid. They'd come in search of adventure; they'd paid a lot for the thrill of competing for the title of "Sea Lord" or "Rider King" or some other award. He thought they should be thrilled and excited.

Lorraine Denton started off as a frightened girl who chewed on the ends of her shoulder length blonde hair, her blue eyes flitting from one thing to another. Her friend, Stacy Potts, put on a bold front, but Yosuf assumed she'd never ridden the ocean waves astride a sea brute.

"Mustn't change the mid-chest dial," he cautioned the girls. A slip of the suit might engulf them in nauseating waves of motion. A change to a setting at the front of the helmet could generate vibrations that would drive them crazy. Anything not set correctly brought dire consequences, Yosuf warned.

Stacy proved to be a difficult pupil. She wanted to set everything herself. She challenged Yosuf with statements like, "How do I know you're doing it right?" Or berated him with, "Read that dial back to me. I need to know the setting."

Lorraine, on the other hand, let Yosuf drape her lean body with the riding suit and voiced no complaints, never a question. She shuddered at his touch, but didn't pull away. She allowed him to put the helmet on her head and tuck her long yellow hair underneath. She did nothing to alter the procedure.

"You don't know what he's doing," Stacy said, and often. "You can't trust a helper bot."

"You don't need to insult him."

"It," Stacy said.

Yosuf tried not to wilt before Stacy's hard stare. He didn’t meet her eyes. He didn’t react.

"Know what, Stacy?" Lorraine stood with her gloved hands on her narrow hips. "Why did you come with me if you don't like it?"

“I don't trust these bots. How do you know they're doing what they're supposed to do?"

"They're bots," Lorraine said. "They're our helpers. Trust them."

Yosuf lowered his head. "I don't want anything bad to happen to you, Miss Lorraine," he said.

Her eyes went wide. Small circles of red appeared on her soft cheeks. She raised her gloves to her face.

"I didn't mean to insult you," Lorraine said. "I'm sorry if I did. But ‘bot’ isn’t a bad word, is it?"

Stacy laughed. "Don't apologize. Bots can't be insulted. Are you stupid, or what?"

They left the Ready Station. Yosuf led them to the dock where sea brutes bobbed in the water. Ocean-going mechanical beasts, they were the epitome of the seamless blend of the virtual with the physical in this game-playing space. Horse-like, the brutes carried a single player, sprayed virtual fire from their mouths, and achieved game speeds of hundreds of miles per hour.

Yosuf turned to Stacy and reached for her helmet as he helped her mount a brute bobbing in the water. He touched a dial with his finger, his touch so deft that no one could detect it. Certainly not Stacy.

The young women left the dock astride their mounts. Elsewhere along the estuary, other players parted from their helpers and rode into the open water. They bounced and spun and floated, some at the crest of a wave and some riding through the whitecaps generated by players racing one another on fast moving sea brutes.

Yosuf pictured Stacy losing her balance and slamming hard against a virtual wall or rock or into another player. She’d take a rough jolt in her game suit. She’d lose her helmet. She’d be smacked by a wave, her cheeks stung and her vision blurred. Most likely, her game injury would reflect in the real world and she’d be scared away from the game for a long time.

Only thing Yosuf regretted: Lorraine would never know he'd done this for her. Because she deserved a better friend.


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After a long and successful career as a software developer and technical architect, David has turned to a first love: writing fiction of all sorts, especially SF and fantasy. He's published stories in Phase 2, Farther Stars Than These, SciFan, Martian Wave, Flash Fiction Press , Bonfires and Vanities (an anthology) and other online as well as print magazines. Visit his web site: http://www.davidsjournal.com to learn more and for links to his Kindle books on Amazon.

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