Forrest Cameranesi: Geek of all Trades

(4x05) The Birth of Another World: Part 2, Episode 2

The world of Virtuality is not completely without suffering, by design. Though none are intentionally inflicted by the system as a whole, pain and injury remain possible, so that people can experience the full range of sensations available in real life. Even the gradual accumulation of lifelong wear and tear still happens, so that the experience of aging is available to those who would wish to explore it. Of course ageing and injury are easily reversed with the "magic" system that can generally override most of the simulated "natural" processes of the virtual world, but those natural processes are still there, so that nothing of the real world is missing from the virtual world, even things that most people would choose (and are trivially able) to avoid. In the extreme, even the experience of dying can be had, in case anyone should want it. But of course, actual death is impossible, as the user's body and brain remain safely intact in the real world, completely unaffected by the simulated events. Upon the death of the virtual body, the user merely becomes a "ghost", in a new avatar that is completely incorporeal at first, invisible and unaffected by gravity, but which grows gradually more corporeal as the old virtual body decays, in effect slowly reincarnating.

Tom, still pursuing the action-oriented aspects of the virtual world, discovers this when he gets in over his head in a fight. Running about in his female avatar as Tamara, she is sexually propositioned by a user in an intentionally grotesque, disfigured, disproportionately muscled avatar that could only be described as "orcish", who she of course declines; even as promiscuous as she is, she has her standards. But the monster will not take no for an answer, and tries to force himself on her. Of course Tamara fights back, and despite the genders and apparent build of their respective avatars, brute physical strength is equally available to all users of Virtuality, so she is able to put up quite a fight.

But that only seems to enrage the monster more, and he turns out to be the more skilled fighter, and gets the upper hand on her. He taunts her about her reputation, which has apparently attracted this violence, and suggests that since the world is virtual, Tom could always disconnect from the simulation, and staying proves that she really likes it; but immediately adds that to quit would prove just how weak and pathetic Tom really was, and reminds Tom that disconnecting from his avatar will leave her there, an empty husk, in his clutches, waiting for Tom's return. Enraged, Tom decides to stay connected and try to fight off the attacker, and manages to escape from the sexual conquest and return the fight to a physical one. But she is mortally wounded in the process, and while trying to flee from her attacker, eventually bleeds out and loses consciousness. He then finds himself a ghost, and watches as the monster drags his old dead avatar away, before only then disconnecting from Virtuality in shock.

Waking up in his physical body, Tom is surprised to find that his heart isn't even racing; the halo system has kept his physical body calm and relaxed even while experiencing virtual death. It is an eerily disconcerting sensation, to suddenly be in a body that feels like it is emotionally calm, even though in his mind Tom is anything but.

After experiencing that just once, Tom almost quits the Virtuality beta program for good. But after much soul searching, he decides to stick it out, and just be way more cautious about the kinds of fights he gets into and how he handles them. As other users adapt likewise, surrender becomes much more common, and battles to the death much less so – not that surrender was an option for Tom in his case.

The adaptation of the "magic" system to combat also becomes much more frequent, with users duelling through control of that system rather than avatar-to-avatar combat, and usually surrendering when threatened with direct harm to their avatar.

It is this that pulls Tom back to Virtuality again, where he trains extensively in magical combat, and then goes on the hunt with his newfound powers for the monster who put him through such a traumatic experience. He finds the monster, and quickly overpowers him in a magical battle without warning, virtually killing him before he can even have a chance to disconnect. Because the enemy's body is severely charred and half-disintegrated by the ferocity of the magical attacks, his ghost is immediately semi-tangible and translucent, and Tom accosts the ghost angrily, saying that that death was too quick for a monster like him, and that he will stalk the ghost until it becomes corporeal again and then kill it good and slowly this time, so the monster can see what it feels like.

The ghost begs for mercy though, finally able to take the time to speak now that the unexpected combat is over, and apologises profusely for the attack. Switching to a female avatar herself, she explains that it is modelled after her real body. She herself is a rape survivor – and a fairly recent one at the time she attacked Tamara – and she was lashing out in the virtual world at Tom because his (consensual but promiscuous and kinky) sexual behavior in Virtuality reminded her of her attacker, and she projected all of her rage about him onto Tom instead, thinking getting it out safely in Virtuality would be cathartic. Instead, her own attack against Tom only traumatized her more. She has been wearing the monstrous avatar in shame ever since, feeling like it reflects her "twisted soul".

Sadly, she offers to accept Tom's threatened punishment. But Tom is moved by this revelation and calms down immediately, offering his sympathies to her instead. He says that because of her actions, which are still totally not okay, he understands what she's been through and, though moments before he wanted to inflict it on the monster he thought she was in revenge, he wouldn't wish that on any innocent the way that it was inflicted on her, and the way she inflicted it upon him. She apologises profusely for her attack and begs Tom for his forgiveness, which he quickly offers, and the two sit down to talk things out more amicably.

Next: The Birth of Another World: Part 2, Episode 3