Authors: David Hosp
For my family
I’m floating. I take a deep breath to quiet the feeling of claustrophobia. It’s like a drug – paralytic – someone else controls my every move. My senses
are sharp and alive, though, as I go with him, a silent partner in his world, unseen and unknown.
He walks down a long corridor. The walls are stark white, the wood floors stained black. I see through his eyes as his head turns, taking everything in, as if he wants to remember every detail,
every image, every moment. He looks down and I can see his shoes – black cap-toed boots. The pants cover them to the ankle, and with every step they ride up ever so slightly, so that I can
see the bottom edge of the patch of elastic on the side that allows the boots to be slipped on without laces and still fit well. He reaches out and drags his fingers lightly along the wall and I
can feel the tingle on my fingertips. The shirt flows loosely over his shoulders.
He pauses as he looks up and sees the door at the end of hallway. It’s red, and it stands out against the sea of this otherwise colorless world. I hear his breathing grow heavy, and in my
wrists I am aware that his heartrate has increased. He starts walking again, hesitant at first, but each step like a gathering storm.
When he reaches the door, he waits there for a moment, listening. I hear faint moans – no words, only the guttural sounds of animal desire. He reaches up and runs his palm along the edge
of the door, his head tilting. He’s panting now.
The door opens and he stands there, scanning the room. It, too, is white, with fifteen-foot ceilings and ten-foot windowed doors that lead out to a balcony. The doors are open, and a gentle
breeze blows the gauzy window dressings in. They billow and fall and turn as if dancing on cue, giving only a glimpse of the world outside. The room is barren except for a large four-poster bed
with a loose canopy that matches the curtains on the window. It rustles nervously against what remains of the breeze inside the room.
He wipes his forehead and turns to the bed. I feel his sweat on my hand. Through the canopy I can see the outline of a woman. Soft cries of desire waft across the room. They are so quiet they
are difficult to hear, and yet they reach down with an ancient yearning to some core instinct in both of us; some primal drive that is base and male and irresistible.
He walks slowly over to the foot of the bed and pulls the thin curtain aside. She is there, lying on the bed. The first thing I notice is her face. It is so perfect it seems unlikely that it
could ever exist in the real world. Her white skin is flawless, her features perfectly symmetrical, her lips red and wet and full, parting with every gasp. It is her eyes that hold me, though. They
are a shade of blue I have never seen, with flecks of gold and crystal, and they are so penetrating it feels as though they are reaching out straight through his eyes into mine, begging me for . .
. something I can’t quite make out. It’s like those eyes have captured the dialectic of every human emotion that ever mattered – love and hate; ecstasy and terror; comfort and
jealousy – and rolled them into a single glance that could level entire cities. I am slaughtered.
His eyes travel the length of her body. Her hands are bound to the headboard with leather straps. She wears white lace and a matching bustier that ends just below her nipples, which are small
and erect. Sheer white leggings cover sculpted, perfect calves and thighs, kept taut by a satin garter and stockings. Her dark hair is spilled out over the pillow.
He moves to her and as he approaches her breathing quickens, matching his. Her moaning gains volume as he reaches out to caress her legs. I can feel her skin on my hands, warm and smooth, like
the finest velvet ever woven. He slides his hands up the insides of her thighs and I can feel the heat she gives off intensify. He slips her panties down, over the garter and leggings, over her
feet. She gasps and writhes from side to side in anticipation, as though given over wholly to his spell.
He stands before her, slipping down his pants. Then his hands are on her again, and her skin is like fire. He crawls over her, so that we are both looking down at her now, her face so close I
can feel her breath. She smells of jasmine and musk. Her eyes are so large, so mesmerizing, they are all I can focus on. I sense his rhythm, and the way she matches it, her gasps now synchronized
to each thrust of their hips. And yet still all I can see are those eyes. Eyes so deep I fear that I may be lost here forever.
His hands slide up her body, over her breasts, under her arms. Her hands are still bound above her head, and he runs his fingers up over her elbows to her wrists, and then back again to her
shoulders. My fingers go along for the ride.
Their rhythm is mounting now, and her gasps have become loud cries. His hands move from her shoulders to her neck, caressing the soft skin below her perfect jaw. He is holding her tight, and I
feel his hands and mine close on her throat. She is still matching each thrust, but something is different. I can see it in her eyes. Those pools of wonder and trust darken with fear and doubt. I
want to scream out. I want to stop it, but I am powerless. Our fingers grip her throat tighter. She writhes and I can no longer tell what she is feeling. I can sense what he is feeling, though. His
heart is pounding in my wrists, and his rhythm is gathering speed and losing consistency, his control slipping as the end nears. Her face is flushed, her eyes bulging, and I know she cannot
The end comes with an explosion that shatters the world. They spasm and recoil. He screams. Her mouth is open, as though she is trying to call out, but no sound escapes. For both of them, every
muscle contracts with such force it seems as though their bones will snap.
The room is quiet and I look down. She is still there, but no longer. She is limp and lifeless, and the fire that was in those eyes – those eyes I lost myself in – is gone.
The screen explodes in a flash of light that recedes into the center of the world until the monitor is black.
The slap on my shoulder shoots adrenaline through my overwrought body. I jerk forward in my chair, ripping the sensory unit off my face. Yvette looks down over her nose-ring at me with a
conspiratorial smile. Everyone I know is captivated by her looks. She has none of the attributes of conventional beauty: her nose is slightly askew; her eyes a bit too large and spread; her ears
stick out when her hair is pulled back; and the hair itself . . . well, it would take a page for every day of the year to describe the ever-evolving, multicolored, kaleidoscopic mess that is her
hair. She has a way of holding others with her piercing hazel eyes, though, that makes them feel at once understood, evaluated and dismissed, all before she’s even blinked. In short, there is
nothing soft about Yvette Jones. And yet her sharp edges are compelling. She is a challenge, and I can understand those who see the prickly exterior and yearn to unlock the vulnerable little girl
trapped underneath. I have known her long enough to be sure that the little girl doesn’t exist. Yvette is exactly who she appears to be; that’s one of the reasons I trust her more than
anyone else I’ve ever known.
‘Shit, ’Vette,’ I say, shaking off the remnants of the LifeScene I’ve just left. ‘You could give someone a heart attack pulling them out of a GhostWalk like
‘Walk was over, Nick,’ she says. ‘I saw the feed go dead. You were just sitting there like you needed a cigarette.’ The smile is there again. ‘That good, was
I roll my gloves down from the elbows and put them with the sensory unit carefully on the stand next to the computer. ‘Don’t you have any shame?’
She laughs. ‘What do
think?’ She leans in and whispers, ‘Who was it?’
She knows we’re not supposed to share information about our subjects’ identities. Keeping our research double-blind is the only way to prevent bias, but it’s a rule
that’s never been strictly followed or enforced. I suppose it doesn’t really matter anyway; the names are all fake, and it’s not like we’re curing cancer. Besides, I’m
technically her boss – though it doesn’t always feel that way – and it’s not likely that she’s ever going to get me in trouble. ‘The Marquis,’ I reply.
She gives me a knowing nod. ‘
. I walked one of his a few weeks ago. Very impressive graphics.’
‘The graphics were spectacular,’ I agree. ‘But the scene was a little too hardcore for my tastes.’
‘Sex too hardcore?’ She laughs again. ‘For you?’
I make an annoyed face. ‘It’s not the sex; it’s the killing I could do without.’
Yvette shrugs. ‘He did the same thing in the one I walked. He took it too far, but it doesn’t change the technical brilliance of what he’s doing.’
‘It’s pretty fucked-up. I wasn’t expecting it.’
‘She’s an avatar, Nick,’ Yvette points out. ‘She’s not real. She’s not even someone else’s avatar, she’s one of his.’
‘Still, he gets off killing her,’ I say. I understand Yvette’s nonchalance, and yet it bothers me for reasons I can’t explain. Fake or not, there was something about the
girl in the scene that I can’t treat with my customary dispassion.
‘He does,’ she admits. ‘And millions of people get off killing other fake people in war games.’
‘How? Have you ever watched a twelve-year-old play Mortal Combat? It’s disturbing. What
does in his LifeScenes is actually pretty tame compared to some of the other
shit people use the platform for. You’ve been in management too long, and you’re not out there anymore doing the daily GhostWalks. It’s hard not to get jaded. There’s some
seriously vile crap I’ve seen out there that’s real misogyny: uninspired assholes who are too dumb to do anything but create half-baked dungeons . . . tie girls up . . . beat them . . .
humiliate them . . . crap like that. That’s not
’s thing. He takes his time, and comes up with some really innovative concepts. I give him some credit for that, at
‘Even if he kills them?’
‘Like I said, they’re not real, Nick, and you’ve been in this business too long to start judging people’s fantasies now. Morality gets left at sign-in, remember? It might
‘Did I?’ I remember that, and it’s always been my view. Something is different in this case, though. I just can’t explain why. ‘This guy’s taking it to a new