I couldn’t help but think that first dates probably shouldn’t involve this much stabbing.
Katie-Anne had two daggers and a sly smile, like she found what she was doing to be particularly satisfying. I had a short sword, a buckler and a respawn timer that started at thirty seconds and got a little longer each time I used it.
It was up to five minutes before Katie-Anne called a halt. I dropped my equipment on the ground and sprawled out next to it, bruised or aching in what felt like a thousand places. Katie-Anne sat down next to me, twirling her daggers in her hands, one after the other.
“So you do this often?” I asked, trying not to sound as beat up as I felt.
“No. You just really suck.”
We were sparring in the courtyard of a massive stone temple set in a mountainside that overlooked a medieval town. It was dusk now (or sometime after midnight in real life).
An hour ago, a massive gold dragon had appeared from the wilderness at the base of the mountain and begun laying waste to the town. As the first non-player characters were slaughtered in the town’s defense, I worried that Katie-Anne intended for us to join in the fight. She assured me that we were just here for the show. The dragon, apparently, did this every day.
Then, after a couple minute watching the dragon, she suddenly whirled out of sight and I felt the, now familiar, discomfort of having a dagger rammed up underneath my ribs. The surprise attack killed me—or rather, my avatar—with one blow, and I spent the next several minutes waiting to respawn and wondering if I’d have faired better against the dragon.
Now, lying on the grass outside the temple, looking down at the smoking ruin of town, I realized that the dragon must have departed while Katie-Anne and I were still fighting. I also realized that I was still in arms reach of Katie-Anne and her daggers.
I rolled away.
“It’s okay, Adam,” She laughed. “I’m done now. I just needed to work out some frustration.”
“I don’t think I’ve ever been quite that frustrated.”
In her hand she flipped one dagger around into a reverse grip and then slammed it into the ground. “You’ve never met my mother,” she said.
I nodded. I’d only ever seen Regina Jo Normal on the vids, but I wouldn’t have described her as motherly. She had one of those personalities like she always thought she was in charge, no matter where she was. In the vids she had a fierceness about her that reminded me a lot of a dagger-wielding Katie-Anne. Regina Jo Normal had been a visionary, cunning president, but I doubted that she’d ever made much effort to get along with anyone.
And Katie-Anne had cost her reelection. The scandal that resulted from Katie-Anne’s failure in the experimental SIM program five years ago left free people questioning whether a woman whose own daughter didn’t hold with their ideals was fit to lead them. I hadn’t heard much about Katie-Anne or her mother in the last five years, but I could see how their relationship might be…frustrating.
Especially with Katie-Anne’s mother running for the presidency again this year.
I forced myself to my feet, keen to get Katie-Anne off a subject that had a tendency to result in her killing me.
“So why does it hurt?” I asked.
Katie-Anne looked at me, puzzled. Then she realized, “You mean where I killed you all those times?”
I rolled my eyes.
“It’s sort of incentive not to get stabbed too much,” she said. “The SIM is called Dun Rhen, and even though it’s more than a decade old, it’s a Hallisco SIM, which means it’s absurdly realistic.”
I recognized the name Hallisco as the largest SIM design company in the world. They were also behind the more modern Terrasend SIM.
I raised an eyebrow. “I just spent the last three hours getting slashed, stabbed, disemboweled and laughed at, and you’re telling me this is realistic?” I paused, “Okay… maybe the getting laughed at part.”
She smiled. “It hurt when I killed you though. Not a lot, but enough to make the prospect of dying unappealing.” She let me help her to her feet, leaving one of her daggers embedded in the grass. I was thankful for that. “It’s not just that though. There are a bunch of little things that you wouldn’t notice because you haven’t done any other SIMming.”
“And you’re a seasoned SIMming expert now, eh?”
She narrowed her eyes at me, idly twirling her remaining dagger in her hand. I took an involuntary step backward.
“You’re sweating,” she pointed out, “When you were fighting, your gear felt heavy. If you haven’t noticed it yet, your avatar will even need to go to the bathroom on regular intervals.”
I had noticed it, but I thought that it was just that I had to go in real life. It occurred to me that I should probably ask how that’s handled at some point.
Katie-Anne went on. “You’ll find a lot of life’s little discomforts here. There are even more of them in the Haven space adventure SIM. And Terrasend,” she paused, “Well, life in Terrasend is so full of discomfort and pain and suffering that it might as well just be the real thing.”
In Terrasend, death was permanent. That was the one thing everybody knew about it. But if it was like Katie-Anne was describing, I couldn’t even begin to imagine why so many people were spending so much time there. Why would people choose to live in constant fear for lives that must seem so fragile to SIMmers who had spent so long killing each other all the time.
“Terrasend,” I said, shaking my head in wonder, “Why do you love it so much?”
Katie-Anne smiled, turning to face the red sun setting over the ruined town below us. “There was this boy named Jaime,” she said.
I’d spent the whole night dying violent, uncomfortable deaths. Up until that moment, I’d been having a good time.