Friday, August 10, 2012

"Singular" Chapter One

I am writing a novel. It's called "Singular," and it is the story of the wold's first true posthuman, and how the world reacts to him. I thought I would post my rough draft of the first chapter here for all my fans, and see how it goes. Drop a comment at the end and let me know what you think. In fact, let's all collaborate. As I write this book, I'll post up sections of it, and you can all give your input. That sounds like fun.

By Travis James Leland


            As the sun set outside his bedroom window, day was breaking in the virtual. He logged in and his avatar was in his meditation space. It was a gazebo on the side of a hill, overlooking a beach. A few people had wandered over to watch the sunrise. There was a robot, a sexy human/fox hybrid, and a couple holding hands: he with laughably exaggerated musculature and she a stick-thin waif with basketball breasts. Alpha was, by default, an 8 foot tall, light blue alien with yellow eyes wearing a white jumpsuit. He was sitting lotus-position on a pillow in the wooden gazebo. Soft meditation music floated in the space, and the sound of nonexistent seagulls could be heard overhead.
            Alpha hit the stand button and his avatar uncrossed his legs, rising to his full height. Heading out of the gazebo he turned to his right, away from the beach, toward the twisting spires of the City Hall tower, glinting reflections of the virtual sunrise.
            Down the boardwalk, clad in a gossamer dress, floated Victoria. Her avatar’s name appeared over her head as “Imogen Palooka,” but they had gotten to know each other well enough to have revealed their legal names.
            “Hi Alpha,” she said by text. They had spoken by voice before, in the early days, when they were getting to know each other - when they wondered if the person behind the avatar was actually the same gender they presented in-world. But voice chat was hard for Alpha. When he had time to think about it, his responses seemed, to him, to be much more eloquent than his speech. So they had gone back to typed communication in-world.
            Her avatar was set to make a gentle swaying motion, shoulders sloped forward, hugging her arms, eyelashes batting. Backlit by the sunrise, it was quite enchanting, and Alpha assumed it was an expensive upgrade. His avatar stood still, by default. He thought it looked rather stupid.
            “Right on time, ‘Loo,” he typed back, using his preferred short version of “Palooka.” At first she hated it, but when he told her it was better than “Vicky,” she relented. “Are you ready to go?”
            “You actually have to ask me that?”
            He hit the shrug button.
            “Come on,” she said. “Lead the way.”

            They stood atop a sheer cliff face that was rezzed to appear roughly eight miles high. Below, white clouds rolled around mixing and pulling apart like cream swirling into coffee. The sky above still had that early morning glow that would only last a few moments longer, and they were both bathed in a gold-and-orange light, turning his jumpsuit into what looked like a prison uniform.
            “I’m ready when you are,” she said, answering his unspoken question. He held out a blue, long-fingered hand to her, and she placed hers - perfectly rezzed, manicured – into his. He pointed to a spot on the ground, and a small beam of twinkling blue light appeared. They stepped into it and suddenly, they were in what appeared to be outer space. Their avatars began to drift as all around them, stars, galaxies, nebulae, spun in a dark expanse. Some streaked by them soundlessly as Alpha and ‘Loo began to dance to a music neither of them could hear.
            They spiraled up, twisting around each other in a vaguely serpentine way, then held hands as they parted, arching backwards in a mirror image of each other. After completing a circuit, they came back, face-to-face, palms pressing together and they pushed apart, floating back, then launching off of two asteroids parked behind them, rushing back to each other to repeat the steps all over again. It was an automated dance. They could actually sit back and let it go, just watching on their screens as they spent the next fifteen minutes together. In silence.
            They didn’t need to speak to each other. This was their time to just exist. Together. As their time in the space dance ended, they floated back down to the cliff top, embracing the whole way. When they landed, they stood for a moment, looking over the edge at the clouds below. She swayed and shrugged, he stupidly stood.
            “Do you think it’s time we finally see each other?”
            “We’re so far apart,” she said, and her avatar made a little pouty face.
            “We’re both in Southern California. It’s not like we are across the country.”
            “That’s true. Let’s talk about that some more, later.”
            “What do you want to do now?”
            “Let’s go back to my place.”

            They had had v-sex before. Quite a few times. At first it was just no-strings-attached fantasy. Two people who didn’t even know each other looking like an alien and a goddess laying on a bed that wasn’t even real and watching their avatars wiggle around on the screen. But the last few times, things had seemed subtly different. They didn’t talk about random things like their favorite TV shows or music during the act. It was quiet, more tender. They didn’t animate their avatars to do anything rough or exotic anymore. They kept their usual looks, not turning into different beings like they used to. They moved slowly. Alpha started watching it from his avatar-eye-view. It seemed more personal, more sensual.
            This time, not a word was exchanged.
            They sat on her balcony. There were two chairs and a table. She had laid out tea and their avatars sipped it as they typed back and forth.
            “It’s been a good day, ‘Loo.”
            “Yes, it has.”
            “Good. I like it when you are happy.”
            He looked over at her. That pout was back, and now she was looking down at her feet, her tea forgotten; her hair giving off a soft golden glow.
            “But you aren’t happy,” he said.
            There was a long moment of silence.
            “It’s something you said earlier. You want to meet.”
            “Do you?”
            “I don’t know.”
            She continued to look at her feet, then raised her head to stare at the pixelated sun. The only sounds were the ambient waves and soft breeze sounds that were standard in this part of the world.
            “I mean, yes, I really do. Unless you’ve been lying to me all this time, we are the same age. I’ve heard your voice, so I know you are a guy. I just…”
            “Go ahead, you can tell me,” he said, turning his head to give her his full attention.
            “Alpha, what we have here in-world is really special.” Rainbows and stars appeared and began to float around her head like a baby’s mobile. “What if we meet and you don’t feel about the real me the way you do about my avatar?”
            “But it’s just a shell, ‘Loo. It’s light on a computer screen. You can change into anything you can imagine here. I’d still feel the same.” She looked up at him. The rainbows disappeared, replaced by bright question marks. “I would, ‘Loo. Because I love you. The real you; whoever you are and wherever you are.”
            Her smooth face stretched into a smile. “You’ve never said it before, Alpha. Do you really mean it? Do you love me?”
            It was his turn to pause and look at the sun, now dipping down into the ocean, turning the whole world into a rose colored paradise. The ambient sounds were beginning to mix with the world’s nighttime mixture of crickets and owls.
            “Yes, Victoria, I mean it. I am in love with you. I have been for a while.”
            “You know what? I was hoping you would say that. Because I feel the same way. I love you too and I do want to meet. I don’t care how far it is.”
            “Do you have a car?”
“When are you free?”
“How’s tomorrow?” She turned around and sat in his lap, leaning her frame back against him, her hand reaching up and stroking his strong alien cheekbone.
“Tomorrow’s fine. I’ll link you the address.”
“I’m happy.”
“Before we meet, I think I need to tell you something about me. About the way I look.”
“Hush. I don’t want to know, Alpha. I love you anyway. No matter what.”
They sat quietly together, watching the sunset. Eventually, she had to leave, saying goodnight and winking out in a splash of faerie dust. He stayed a while longer on her balcony, watching the moonlight bouncing off the waves. The texturing of the water was his favorite thing in-world. That one element made all the difference, and as long as he saw that, he felt truly at home.
Finally, he logged out and shut off the computer, then went to bed, where his dreams were filled with meeting ‘Lou in real life, and she looked exactly like she did in-world. She looked like a goddess.

The first time he answered the door, it was the mail carrier. She looked at him strangely for a moment, then held the mail close to herself.
“So I’m confused,” she spat with no preamble. “I get about 4 different last names at this address. I see a Simmons, a Walker, a Schofield and a MacKenzie. So what’s the deal?”
“Yeah, it’s a big family and there have been marriages and adoptions. All those names are here.”
“Well it’s damned confusing.”
“No, it’s pretty simple,” he said. “If it has this address on it, you put it in that little box over there. It doesn’t matter what name is on it and it isn’t any of your business anyway.”
Actually, he didn’t say that. It was more of a mumbled “Thanks” as she handed him the bundle of envelopes and magazines, then sauntered back to her truck. He was raised to be polite. He was taught that, no matter what, if you are more civilized than the other person, you are the winner. Unfortunately, his politeness was often misinterpreted as a weakness. People seemed to always have their way with Alpha, and he never said what he was really thinking. If he was winning, he wanted to know what the prize was.
The second time he answered the door, it was her. Victoria. Before he swung it open, he took a deep breath, imagining himself to be that tall, blue alien. Of course she loved him no matter what, but it gave him that boost of self-confidence. Much like her avatar, the sun lit her from behind, a golden halo shining through her long, blonde hair.
“Hi,” he said a moment later. Not the most well-thought-out greeting.
He could tell that she was nervous. She didn’t speak for a moment, even after he motioned her inside and she stood in the entryway, clutching her purse.
“You look just like her,” he said. “Just like ‘Loo.”
“Oh… Thanks,” she finally spoke. “You…don’t look like Alpha. I mean, I wasn’t expecting you to look like a blue alien, but…um.”
“Yeah,” he said, then pushed the button that moved his wheelchair next to the couch. She sat down on the center cushion just close enough, but just far away.
They talked about a lot of things, mostly about things in-world. At one point, he reached for her hand. She instinctively pulled it back, before allowing him to hold it for a while. And he knew then that things were not right.

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