He was a strikingly handsome man, he had a powerful, lean physique and a proud, square jawline. His piercing blue eyes peered out into the infinite darkness of space, the endless black canvas upon which the universe itself was painted. But it wasn’t the universe, the place of endless possibilities and the cradle of all creation that held his attention. He was staring at his own reflection, gazing lovingly at the image of himself, dressed only in a towel, since he had stepped only moments before from the shower.
She slipped from their bed and stepped up behind him, her pare feet tapping gently on the glass floor beneath. She sipped on a cocktail, a bubbling concoction from some planet, far off in some distant corner of the galaxy, perhaps waiting to be conquered by his mighty glass spacecraft, the ultimate vessel in the whole, complete and entire universe.
She edged forwards to join him by the edge of their lounge, a huge glass wall along the side of the huge, glass vessel. She was wrapped only in a bed-sheet, torn rudely from their shared bed and looked at him with a warmth in her eyes that fell only just short of the love he felt for himself.
He turned to look at her, his lips tracing into a smile as he contemplated what was next for them, where to go, what to see, who to conquer, to cook and, perhaps, to eat.
“Maybe we should head to the Fusian system, I hear there’s a planet there where the wind blows across fields of wild crystal flowers creating music so beautiful that it could make a grown man cry,” he said. His voice deep and heavy, dripping with masculine authority.
“And I hear the population is made up of tiny green people that have no weapons. We could arrive for breakfast and own the planet by lunchtime,” she added with a vicious smile on her soft red lips.
He looked away from her perfect face to once again stare out into the vastness of space and he smiled to himself. It was all so perfect; he had the universe at his fingertips and the means to take anything he wanted, at any time he chose and, even better, he had her.
He looked back to her, to this women that he had come to deeply love over the last few months. He had met her while attacking an outpost, populated by horribly unprepared little purple aliens who tasted oddly like chicken. She had been in their capital city at the time, destroying it with an ultra-mega-laser-cannon and what was left smelled very much like the grease-trap in the kitchen of a shop specialising in fried poultry and low standards.
She was brutal, morally bereft, totally lacking in empathy and she was beautiful. To him she was perfect.
“I could eat breakfast,” he said thoughtfully as if considering something of incredible importance, while his mind was actually pre-occupied with what horribly sweet things he might be able to ram into a toaster. “Computer, prepare a course for the Fusian system, take us to the planet of the singing flowers.”
The computer spoke with a voice like a whisper over an infinitely delicate wine-glass. “Course is laid in. Preparing for hyper-jump. Total journey time will be seventeen minutes.”
“Seventeen minutes,” she put down her drink on a glass shelf and smiled at him flirtatiously. “I’m going to step outside then. I’ll be back soon, though.” Her eyes locked onto his, an unspoken thing passed between them. “Promise,” she purred.
He nodded, “Good idea. I should really step outside myself. You step out a lot, sometimes it feels like you’re hardly ever here these days.” He took a long look out into the void, contemplating something even more important than ramming things into toasters. “What time is it where you are on the outside?”
“Ah, ah,” she held up a finger, wagging it at him admonishingly and frowning like she meant it. “No. No questions, it will spoil the romance. You’re simply Captain Joper, space adventurer, and I’m just Princess Lucie, vicious destroyer of worlds. Let’s just leave it at that, shall we? We know who we are in here, that’s all the matters. Outside is just outside.” She looked sad for a moment.
He sighed and nodded. His fingers traced over the bony ridge of his heavy, powerful, masculine jawline. He found the odd little ridge at the top of his neck with his fingertip as she did the same to hers.
“I’ll see you soon, Princess.”
At the same moment they pressed down on the button that felt as if it was made from their own flesh.
There was a bright flash.
The glass spaceship flickered, glowed a brilliant white and was suddenly gone, leaving little Johnnie Harper sitting in his bedroom, unplugging the simulation-patch from the base of his skull. He felt as if he’d been ripped from a dream, although the memory was perfect, perhaps clearer than the memories he formed in the outside world. It took him just a moment to adjust, his brain reeled for a few seconds, making sense of the shift from one reality to the other.
His small room was a tip, as every teenage boy’s room was. It smelled of sweat and apathy and was horribly untidy. Plates of cheap convenience food lay scattered around amidst paper cups once filled with over-sugared drinks.
He hefted himself up, wheezing at the effort as he hoisted his bulky, unhealthy body from the chair, pulling it free of the metal contacts that put him into the perfect artificial reality of his favourite game, ‘The Glass Spaceship’ where he could explore a perfect universe. It was a place where nobody picked on him, where none of the kids at school shouted at him to lose weight, to go outside more or to make some real friends. It was his reality.
In the game he had real friends, in the game he had a reality more solid, more meaningful than anything he’d ever encountered in the outside world. He had a life exploring the galaxy in his mighty space-craft and a wonderful girlfriend, the lovely princess with the flowing, golden hair, alluring lips and perfect figure. Inside the game, even an awkward, lonely teenage boy like him could be anything and anyone he wanted to be, in the games, everyone could be whoever they really wanted to be. The games were better than reality, his reality, at least.
He made his way from the dull, dingy bedroom to the bathroom but it was too late, someone pushed past him and reached the door before he could grab at it first.
“Mum,” he grumbled, thinking only of getting back to the ship, back to his princess, “I really need to go.”
“I need to go too,” she glared at him accusingly. “It’s not all about you, you know. There are other people living in this house.”
“Sorry,” he turned his eyes down to the ground and wished he could shrink away into nothing. He wished he could just be Captain Joper again; Captain Joper never had to wait in line for the bathroom. “It’s just that there’s someone waiting for me that I have to get back to…”
“I have things to do too,” his mother told him, snapping angrily, “and I want the rubbish taken out. I’ve told you twice already and it’s still there. Before you do anything else, you go down and empty those bins.”
“But I’m playing my games!” he mumbled to himself pathetically. Captain Joper never had to take the rubbish out, which was fortunate since his rubbish was frequently the smouldering remains of a planet, littered with the skeletons of tasty little aliens.
“I’m playing games too,” she snapped at him. “What do you think I do to relax? I have to unwind from a long day spent cleaning yours and your father’s dirty underwear. That’s even less fun than it sounds, I can promise you that.”
Johnnie looked up, his eyes wide in surprise, “You play the games?”
She snorted a laugh, “Of course I play the games. Everyone plays the games. I used to play the French one about the murder mystery but now I play a space one where you have to conquer enough worlds to earn yourself the ultimate prize, a huge Glass Spaceship. I like having a perfect little galaxy to explore and it’s fun to make special friends online who destroy planets with me. I also like not having to wash anyone’s underwear.”
He looked away thoughtfully; she played in the Glass Spaceship universe? A horrible, terrible thought flashed through his mind. It couldn’t be, it just couldn’t be. Could it? She played the same game, could it be a coincidence that his mother was taking a toilet break at the same time as he and his girlfriend were? You could be anyone you wanted to be inside the games, and if you earned enough points, you could look any way you wanted to look. Who would his mother choose to be, what might she look like in the game?
But it could be. It just couldn’t.
“And while you’re emptying out the bins, feed the dog. I bet Princess is hungry.”
Johnnie’s eyes widened even more and his mind screamed in horror.