Verge of History: Our Time in Eden
by Jim Carnicelli
A stirring woke Renee. Xiao was still snuggled up on her right side. Aurora was gone. Some man Renee didn’t recognize was spooned up behind Xiao. And two other people were also asleep on the balcony with them. When asked Chessie let her know she had only slept about three hours. She was still exhausted. But she didn’t feel comfortable going back to sleep here.
Renee gingerly got up. She adjusted a pillow for Xiao’s head and stuffed a fat pillow roll under Xiao’s arm to snuggle against. She found a light throw to put over Xiao’s still naked body. Xiao smiled in her sleep as Renee kissed her forehead. Then Renee had Chessie return her to her home synth.
Renee was strongly tempted to go for a run. She had a lot to think about. But her exhaustion seduced her into her warm bed. She voked to Chessie, “I have so much on my mind right now. I don’t know if I can sleep. But damn I need sleep. Help me out. Would you?”
“Of course. Sleep well.”
Dark curtains drew over the windows. Renee’s meaningful thoughts gave way to whimsy as she melted into sleep.
When Renee reawoke her PA indicated she had slept a total of eleven hours. “Holy shit. Seriously?” Renee donned her running outfit and went out to jog and think.
She returned after a cleansing hour and showered. As she dried off she voked Chessie, “Okay. I think I’m ready. Go ahead and voke Phuhak.”
Renee met Phuhak at the Blackmore synth. They walked a path along a meadow winding through the half buried ruins of a long dead city. The weather could not be more perfect. The shoals of birds incessantly flitting from building to building in their hunting and roosting thickened the air with a storm of song.
The two talked about their experiences on Kalju. This was only Renee’s third day so her story was brief. Phuhak had been here twelve years. Among his varying interests he pointed out that he had attended every Nuit Rouge at Lust since he arrived.
“Do you ever get tired of it?”
“Not really. Plenty of new faces. Everyone joints Nuit Rouge at least once. And new visitors to Kalju. Fresh blood always.”
“So are you married now? Or dating anyone a long time?” This was the sort of question Renee would never have asked a man she was going to have sex with in the past. Let alone one she already had. She was more than a little nervous about his answer.
“No Renee. That would only cause problems.”
“I think I get it. I’ve never had any luck with relationships either. I stopped dating guys I worked with because it caused too many problems. And besides they were shits. I just learned to stop asking many questions and enjoy fooling around a little.”
“That does make you happy?”
“Jury’s still out on that one.” Renee sighed loughly. “It’s a new life for me now. Maybe men are different. Maybe not. I think I’m ready to try some different things. But I guess I shouldn’t be thinking of you like that. You don’t date.”
“I think I need to explain further. I don’t think you quite understand me.”
Renee was surprised that Phuhak was suddenly talking more like her instead of using the clipped dialect she was getting used to from Kaljuans.
He continued. “I don’t date longer term or marry in the sense that you mean because it’s a bad idea for people like me.”
Renee felt a cringing in her chest. “Are you a sapient?”
“Yes. I assumed you knew or didn’t care either way. Lust isn’t a place one typically goes looking to foster a long term relationship in the way you understand it. When you told me you lived three centuries ago earlier I did some research. I sympathize now that I understand a little better. I think you’re going to need to explore more than a few short and long term relationships before you understand modern conceptions of love and sexulity. I hope you don’t despair and give up.”
“Oh. No problem. I’m not giving up.” Renee realized she should have looked at his profile or asked more questions. But maybe his profile should have made his status clearer. She noticed her hand was clenched into a fist. She relaxed it. “So I’ve gotten to know a few sapients now. They seem really chill. Like someone you’d want to date. I don’t see them cruising for drama.”
“The main reason sapients generally refrain from long term relationships, especially with humans, has to do with conflicts of interest. We have jobs. We exist to do this or that. Your personal assistant takes care of you. What would happen if you were to fall in love with them? And then subsequently get in a fight and have some bitter breakup? What would that even mean? It could mean retiring your PA and getting a new one who then would have to get to know you all over again.”
“Essentially kill them.”
“Okay. So imagine you instead fell in love with someone else’s PA. What would that mean for your connection with the human they serve?”
“Okay. I think I’m getting the picture. Conflicts of interest. Are you a PA?”
“No. I work in food manufacture here.”
“Heh. I wouldn’t want to see what you dish up to the woman that scorns you.”
Phuhak laughed. “I wouldn’t do that. But anyway that’s the main reason sapients don’t ‘date’ in the sense you think of.”
“But you do have sex.”
“And we can make good friends.”
“And you do these for your own fun and not just to serve us or something?”
“Yes. That’s right. And I’m enjoying getting to know you better. I hope you’ll consider me a friend.”
“Do you have sex with friends or just people you don’t know?”
“With whoever it makes sense to. I think you’ll find that there isn’t as much distinction these days between friends and people you have sex with.”
Renee walked in silence for a while. “So. Twelve years here. Were you ‘born’ then? What it like making food or whatever?”
The discussion eventually turned to one of Phuhak’s hobbies. “You might enjoy a visit to Brundisium.”
“A recreation of a large port city from an ancient novel. Dancer of Gor by John Norman. It was actually published about a decade before you died. I wonder if you read it.”
“Never heard of it. So what is this city like?”
“Well. Norman created this complex world through dozens of novels on a fictional planet in Sol. It has something of a medieval flavor with a lot of fantasy elements. It features large predatory animals, chivalrous warriors, the occasional alien god, and lots of other amusements. Would you like to see it?”
“Why not? I’ve got nothing better to do.”
“It’s a roleplay synth. You’ll be expected to dress accordingly. I suggest you ask your PA to help you find an appropriate free-woman outfit. I’m betting you won’t want to be a slave.”
“A slave? Definitely not. Slaves? Really?”
“I think it’ll be easier to explain all of this when we get there. Go ahead and find an outfit. You’ll be able to talk to players and NPC synths in out-of-character mode so you don’t have to feel so out of place.”
Renee laughed when her PA showed her what the typical livery of a pleasure slave looked like. “Jesus Ches. Why even bother wearing clothing?” Some of them were flat out naked or bare breasted. Those that had more clothing wore diaphanous fabrics that barely concealed anything.
When shown what free women typically wear she was more measured. “Are they Muslims? That looks like some head to toe robes I’ve seen.” The women wore colorful, ornate garments that covered most of their bodies. Even their faces were veiled with only their eyes showing.
Chessie voked, “In some parts of ancient Earth Muslim women wore clothing that resemble this. But they were typically designed for modesty and not decoration. They might be solid black or blue depending on the region and were meant to give women anonymity. These garments do serve a similar function in Gorean mythology. But they are also designed to be ornate. They showcase wealth and status. But no. Goreans are not Muslims.”
After exploring more options Renee found herself leaning more toward an Indian-like saree with a hijab. “This was more Mom’s speed. I’ve worn these a few times in my life. Mostly to make her happy. This is pretty enough. Let’s go with it.”
Renee followed Phuhak’s teleport offer. She looked around at the port city. They stood in a cobblestone street surrounded by Italian style villas. Downhill over the street was a stunning view of a bustling harbor. Tall multi-masted ships were coming and going. Many were docked and being loaded or unloaded. Even from high up the hill they could hear the commotion of dock workers, travelers, and other townsfolk.
Most people outside were men. But sure enough some of them were accompanied by their slave women adorned with their colorful livery and metal collars. And some free women with their bejeweled body curtains walked alone or with men who were presumably their husbands.
Renee was startled by the low rumble of some great beast as it passed behind them. They turned to see a man riding a two legged creature that looked to Renee like a pygmy tyrannosaurus rex.
Phuhak raised an open hand as though to wave and said, “Tal.” The rider returned the greeting and continued on. To Renee he more quietly said, “That’s high tharlarion. See how that warrior guides it? With his spear.”
“Yeah. You said big animals. That qualifies.” Overhead she noticed a couple of very large birds of prey. “Are those … people riding those birds?”
“Those are tarns. And yes. Tarsmen riding. More warriors. They keep watch for invaders. By land or sea.” Phuhak had slipped back into his modern dialect. Renee had been appreciating how comfortable the conversation they had sounded to her when they had been in a more private setting. Oh well.
“Well. I’m sure I could have tons of fun just creeping around this place for hours. It’s quite beautiful.” Over the lower buildings around here were several taller stone masonry towers with long bridges slung between them higher up. Powerful smells of many sorts competed for her attention. A salty sea breeze. An acrid charcoal fire complimented the nearby clanking sounds of a blacksmith. Freshly baking bread wafted by with the shifting breeze. And underneath it all the smell of the lilacs trees in bloom all around. “But is there something you want to show me?”
“Nothing in particular. You pick direction and walking. I’ll give pointers as we go.”
“Treating me like an actual free woman then. Good.”
“You made clear choice. You prefer slave girl? I’ll treat.”
Renee patted his shoulder and rolled her eyes with a smirk.
After exploring the top of the hill for a while they wandered down to wander the docks. Renee was fascinated as she studied the very active market there. Along the sturdy boardwalk porters hustled with their sacks, barrows, and crates like lines of ants. They stacked their burdens dockside where captains auctioned them off to waiting merchants. Some of the goods were spirited away to farther off places. But some were merchants who ported their new goods to the other side of the boardwalk where their market stalls faced away from the docks just meters behind them. From the other side the market stalls had finely crafted marble facades fronting a cobblestone promenade filled with shoppers. Many of whom were apparently slaves fetching freshly delivered dry produce, salted meats, and other foodstuffs. The air smelled strongly of black pepper, chilis, and flowery perfume oils that masked the murk of the docks behind them.
Renee was most disheartened by one particular ship laden primarily with slaves being offloaded. She and Phuhak followed as they were led to a three-walled open auction house a short distance from the end of the shopping promenade. The two found a wooden column to stand next to as the crowd of shoppers was shuffling in.
In a few minutes the parade of slaves began. There were equal numbers of men and women up for auction. Most were stripped naked so shoppers could see clearly what they were buying. Men and boys were typically sold for work. They were made to show their strength by lifting heavy weights. Phuhak explained that they tried their best because the strongest ones were typically purchased by the wealthiest houses and so got the best food and accommodations.
The women were also sold largely for domestic work and breeding. Their talents in crafting were read aloud and the more beautiful and nubile showed off some of their dancing skills.
Renee felt sick as she watched most of them get sold off and led away by their new masters. Most buyers were free men but a few were free women.
Phuhak explained that he roleplayed a local carpenter who did not own any slaves. Chessie volunteered that Renee’s new friend Lacag’s profile indicated he roleplayed a warrior and master here. She cursed herself for not yet getting into the habit of reading people’s profiles yet. And again committed to filling out her own profile soon.
Renee voked Lacag and asked if he was available to teach her more about Gorean slavery. He needed a half hour to finish up something. After a while he sent her an invitation to join him. She politely said her goodbyes to Phuhak who decided not to join them.
“Tal lady Parrish.”
“What? Oh. Tal … Mister … Stewart.”
Lacag laughed. “You can greet me as ‘sir’ or ‘Lacag’. You are free woman.” He led Renee into his two story stone masonry villa. Just inside was a living room-like space with cushions and low seats arranged on the floor. He sat down and invited her to recline as well.
Lacag snapped his fingers and a slave woman came out from around an arched doorway. She knelt before him with her head down holding out a tray with two goblets on it. He took both and offered one to Renee. “Try some red ka la na.”
She took a sip and recognized it as some sort of semi-dry wine. It didn’t seem to be made from grapes. Its aroma reminded her a little of pear. “That’s nice. Thank you Peninah.” She read the serving girl’s name.
“Oh. Don’t greet her by name. You don’t actually need to thank her. If you want to address her just refer to her as ‘girl’ or ‘kajira’.”
“Okay. I guess I want to do the out of character thing. Can we just talk plainly? I want to understand all this.”
Renee heard a pinging sound. Chessie put an indicator in her field of view that she was now in “OOC mode”. Lacag’s name tag now also featured an “OOC” icon.
“Wow. Okay. Cool. So I’m getting used to the idea that a lot of synths are populated by synth people. And sapients. And of course humans. I must have seen a good thousand people roaming around outside. Are they mostly synths?”
“Yeah. I haven’t counted human players. I’d guess hundred here now.”
“Is she …” Renee turned to Peninah. “Are you a synth? Sapient? Human?”
Peninah’s name tag now featured an OOC icon and Renee heard the ping sound again. She set the tray down and looked up. She was still kneeling. “I’m human Lady Parrish.”
“You don’t need to … okay. Human. Huh.” Renee closed her eyes for a moment to settle down. She nodded. “Okay. Did you choose to roleplay a slave?”
“Oh yes. I wanted this. I love it.”
Renee sipped her ka la na. “Why?”
“This is me. Not all people want or understand.”
“How good it feels to be owned. To be cherished property.” She began reciting what appeared to be a well worn statement. “He is Master, and I am Slave. He is owner, and I am owned. He commands, and I obey. He is to be pleased, and I am to please. Why is this? Because he is Master, and I am Slave.”
“Do you spend all your time here? What do you do when Lacag is away?”
“Oh no. I am not here full time. I come when I wish. Or when Master requests. When I’m gone my synth double plays for me.”
“Oh! I hadn’t thought of that. Interesting.” She turned to Lacag. “You can tell when it’s her and when it’s her synth double?”
“Yes. A synth icon with her name tag.”
Renee turned back to Peninah. “So what’s the appeal? What do you get out of this? Don’t you find this humiliating?”
The girl seemed genuinely confused. “I am valued. Cherished. Loved. For my beauty. For my talents. For all I do to please Master. She who is not won or purchased cannot know her own value. I know my value.”
She meant it. Renee could see the sincerity in her face. Was this brainwashing? Or was Renee suddenly seeing something that had been hiding right in front of her all her life? All throughout her time before death she had met women who made her want to vomit. Those were the ones who seemed to obsess over pleasing their men. Spent all day making elaborate meals for them. The single ones went through one failed relationship after another complaining about how passive their ex boyfriends or husbands were. They were the women who bought trashy romance novels from the paltry bookshelves in supermarkets. She read their back covers and even bought one once. It seemed they all celebrated some form of rape and submission by damsels in distress. Why would anyone buy that trash when there were much better books available? Renee had resolved that these women were simply ignorant. Unenlightened. And yet here Renee was three centuries later talking to a woman who seemed even more of a lost cause than the hopeless saps of her high school days. How long would it take for women to wake up and be their own masters?
And suddenly it seemed like there was a different explanation. What if some women actually were just like this? What if some women really did relish the idea of being swept off their feet by knights in shining armor? Or even kneeling on a foul wooden stage before a crowd of rabble waiting in desperate hope of being bought for a high price by a handsome patrician? Waiting patiently for her master to call her to his bed for sex at his pleasure. A ritualized rape regarded instead as a sign of pure value. If he has sex with you it’s not because he’s doing some husbandly duty for your benefit. It’s because he actually wants you. Desires you.
Moreover Renee realized that serving some master meant having a purpose in life. Whoever Peninah was in real life she probably didn’t have a job. If she had children they couldn’t live here. But having someone to answer to actually gave her a job. Or at least responsibilities. A meaning to her existence. Renee had been wondering what kept people getting out of bed every day. Not that she needed any special reason. She was just happy to explore. Meeting new people. Trying new things. Would she ever get bored after a few years of this? A few centuries? At least Peninah didn’t have to question what she woke up for each day.
Damn. Renee sighed.
Renee noticed Lacag smiling at her. He turned to Peninah. He said softly, “Leave us girl. You’ve done well.”
Renee chuckled. “You must love having a beautiful sex wench.”
He laughed. “Of course I do. I cherish all my kajirae. They are a lot of work but they are worth it.”
“Work?” She didn’t know where to even begin elaborating her question.
“Heh. I see. You don’t understand yet. Ha. Okay. You think I just come here and get pleasured by my slaves.”
“They would leave. ‘Peninah’ is a roleplay name for that person. I don’t know her real name. If she’s unhappy she leaving. Never return. Then I have only synth Peninah. Not as fun.”
“Oh. Huh. I hadn’t thought of that.”
“I must entertain her. And all them.”
“You’re … serving your slaves?”
“At heart. Yes.”
“Okay. My mind is blown. You’re serving them. You’re entertaining them. Why?”
“For pleasure. I love seeing them happy.”
“So you order them to do stuff and fuck them when you want so you can entertain them.”
“Yes. I discipline them when bad. Whip. Slave goad sometimes. Gets them in line. Learn to serve better. Happier when insolence is gone.”
“Uh … huh.”
“You understand? You feel this way? As woman.”
“As a woman? No no. I mean I think maybe I understand. But this is so not me. I want my men on equal terms.” She paused. Her mouth was agape as though she were about to say something. Her brow furrowed. “Come to think of it that’s not really true.”
“What? Oh. I mean I’m just realizing something. Look. I haven’t had any really good relationships. Maybe that’s partly because I don’t want sex that much. Or at least I used to not. Damn Lacag. Since I woke up in this time I have had a libido that won’t quit. It’s getting annoying.”
Lacag laughed. He could tell she had more to say. He nodded for her to continue.
“Well. I was just taking men home from bars and stuff. It was the only way I could enjoy sex and not have the hangover of bad conversations and stress that inevitably followed. Thankfully I only got the itch every few months or so.” She looked at Lacag. He waited for her to continue. “I did it my way. I waved my womanliness in their faces. I dragged them around by the balls practically. I took them where I wanted to go. I usually rode them so I wouldn’t have to hope they could figure out how to work me. Man. I was queen bitch and it was great. Mostly.”
“Maybe you take kajirus here to please you. Male slave. I’ve got some myself.”
Renee laughed. “I don’t think so. Besides. I’ve never done a long term relationship.”
“Pay to rent one for night. Rent another next night.”
“A man whore? I don’t think so. But I guess I can see the appeal. No. I want someone who wants me.” She realized this might sound like she was hitting on him. She looked at Lacag. He seemed to only want her to continue talking. “You know. Something funny happened last night.”
“I went to Lust. You know the Nuit Rouge thing?” Lacag nodded. “My first time. Of course. Just got here and all. My friend invited me. It’s a big thing for her. Anyway. I went the whole night seeing all this fucking and stuff. I didn’t do it. Didn’t join in. I was tempted though. And then after many hours — like six hours — of all that sex in my face. I finally gave in. Some guy was flirting like crazy with me. We did it in a hot tub. It didn’t even last that long but something was different. He took me. I mean I wanted it but he really just took me. He went from playing with me while we were talking in a group to just chucking me on top of him.” She paused lost in thought. “Long story short. I don’t think I’ve ever been that turned on by some guy manhandling me. He threw me around and took me how he wanted. And damned if I didn’t love it. Heh.”
Renee looked at Lacag. He was chuckling softly. She said, “Does that make me slave material? Think I’m secretly wanting to be a fuck slave for some man whore like you?”
He laughed. “Maybe. Maybe not. I think you are woman. Many women like so. So do many men.”
“We all wanting to be wanted. How do you feel when you know some man wanting you?”
“Depends. If it’s one of the office slugs I worked with it’s creepy.” She smiled at his smirk. “It feels good. Yeah. You know. I secretly love that pathetic look some men get when I send them away. You know. After taking them home for sex. They get that puppy look. Some of them are dumb enough to ask about getting together again. Some listened the first time. But they get that look that says they want more. I dig that. I feel wanted. I know it’s a little mean. And I guess I sincerely hope they go home and love that they had a good time with me. I like to imagine them daydreaming about me every now and then.”
“It’s good Renee. Kalju is maybe good place for you. Have fun. There is much pleasure here.”
Renee and Lacag continued chatting for a while. They were interrupted by the clanging of a bell. Renee might have missed it but Lacag was instantly alerted.
“Emergency bell. Probably intruders. I must go.” He leapt to his feet and raced to another room. He returned with a leather shield and some other gear in addition to the short gladius he already had at his side. As he was donning his gear he said, “Stay in OOC mode. It’s safer.” Then he ran out the front door.
Renee followed him some distance behind and lost track. Then she saw him astride a high tharlarion coming out of a tall stable next to the house. A slave helped him get underway. Once he was ready his two legged beast pounded off down the dirt path leading toward the center of town. Smoke was rising from several fires there.
Renee did her best to jog the kilometer stretch of dirt road into town. This required her to pull the pleats of her saree in fistfuls up over her knees. Her soft shoes were terrible for running. Were she not used to jogging in just about every weather condition she might well have given up on account of the sweltering heat from the sun and from wearing a fabric store. But her persistence paid off.
Renee arrived at the periphery of an assembled crowd of people shouting in anger. There were several warriors astride their tharlarions outside the crowd. Three men rose up above the throng twitching and groaning. They were suspended at the ends of long pikes that had apparently been driven through their chests. Several men were lifting each pike up and setting them into rough wooden stands on the ground. Some in the crowd were hurling rocks and spoiled vegetables at the victims. Two of the victims appeared to be clinging stubbornly to life. All rained down trickles of blood on the dirt below.
Lacag’s voice caught Renee’s attention. “Did you run all way here?”
Renee was a little out of breath. She turned and smiled.
“You’re still in OOC. You could have teleported. You know?”
Renee laughed. She fluffed her clothing to straighten it out and cool herself off a little. “Where’s the fun in that?” She nodded in the direction of the pikes. “So. This is what you do for fun?”
Lacag chuckled. “Neighbors occasionally sending us entertainment. We thanking them in Brundisi style.”
After a while the crowd gradually dispersed. By eavesdropping Renee had learned more about the crimes of the three men on the pikes and others slain in the earlier battle. They had set fires in several places downtown. Probably in hopes of stoking a greater conflagration. One ship docked at port had to be towed out into the harbor so its fire wouldn’t spread to nearby ships. All were apparently from the neighboring city of Corcyrus. Many in the crowd were debating the appropriate kind of invasion to punish them.
Renee decided she’d had enough of Brundisium for one day. She teleported back to her home synth. Although it was completely unnecessary, she decided to take a long shower.
Yes, the rumors are true. I’m new here. New to Kalju, new to this century. Born 1961-09-11 on Earth and died late 1996. Frozen and then revived 2298-08-03. I’m technically older than all of you, but I know I have a lot to learn. Thank you for being patient with me.
Please don’t just offer me sex out of the blue. I am still getting over my old fashioned ideas. We didn’t walk around town naked in my day. We didn’t just offer sex to random strangers we passed on the street. It’s all new to me. Let’s start with friends for now, okay?
I’m here on vacation for a few months. Thank you to Kalju for letting me visit and thank you, Kaljuans, for being so welcoming. Show me something cool. Teach me something new. Give me reasons to smile and remember you.
Hey Sigma. I hope the recordings I’ve been sending are giving you what you want. Honestly I don’t see how they help. But whatever.
I’m on my third day here of course. I’ve made some new friends. That’s better than I think I’ve ever done in the past. One of them I even had sex with. I don’t think that’s going to happen again with him but we’ll see. The real surprise there is that he’s still up for being my friend. And that I’m cool with that.
I’m still trying to get a real sense of what life is like for Kaljuans. I roamed the hallways here but there’s not a lot to see. So I’ve spent most of my time in synths, which seems to be what everyone else here is doing too. My sense is that they are just dicking around for fun. Sometimes literally. There are so many sex synths and horny people to fill them. But also they also seem to be really attached to some worlds where they have lives or something. I guess you call them “role players”. They seem like children acting out all kinds of fantasies. If I had a plastic sword and a paper tiara as a kid then I was lucky. Everything else was pretend. Here you don’t have to pretend anything. It’s like anything you dream of is right there for you to see and grab hold of.
It’s interesting to see how much people starved by peace seem so hungry to play at war. It gives some people purpose I think. An enemy to defeat. A cause to rally to.
And maybe that’s the main thing I’m starting to see. Everything I’ve seen here so far seems to be oriented toward giving these people meaning in their lives. Even when they are just fucking their brains out all night, it seems like they are seeking some sort of meaning and not just “for the filling of their holes”, as Peter Gabriel put it.
I’m only getting started here. I’m sure I’ll have more to say later on all this. Bring it on, Kalju.
Renee still has a lot to learn about love and sexuality in the late 23rd century. The last section threw sex in Renee’s face at full force. This section throttles that down to focus more on relationships. First up is Renee reaching out to Phuhak with whom she had sex the night before. His first bombshell is that he’s not human after all. If Renee had been hoping to get her first tastes of humanity since leaving Archeion then it’s ironic that her first sexual encounter on Kalju is with a machine. But she realizes that was a result of a misunderstanding and wasn’t actually bad.
The next surprise for her is the idea Phuhak explains that sapients don’t engage in long term romantic relatio...