It was all silence. It seemed like some frozen, never-ending
moment. Her hand reached out into the darkness, searching.
Searching for something to touch, searching for something to
hold. Searching for a shape in the blackness she could mould,
form, into meaning.
Seeing nothing on the outside, her eyes turned inward. She
tried to create an idea of her surroundings in her mind. All
she had was herself; her name - Sally Moore; and her knowledge
that all her previous nightmares did - eventually - end.
She was still; the hands of fluttering uncertainty had fallen
to her sides. She had only shape in the blackness. She only
had intensities of darkness suddenly brought into existence as
her body met them.
She waited, knowing that - in a sudden realisation - that her
next step could be one to send her endlessly falling, falling
until she was stopped, awoken by her alarm's insistent
"But this," she said out loud, shocked to hear her own voice
and how loud it seemed. "This is no dream."
How she knew it was not a dream was not that clear to her. She
could feel soreness on both her shins that she knew would
become bruises. It came from where she had bumped into the
strange unidentifiable objects that seemed to fill the...
the... whatever it was... the space she had been trying to
She could feel the air, but no breeze or draught as such, on
her naked skin. There was a vaguely tight uncomfortable
feeling around her wrists and ankles where she had traced
patterns that could be rope burns.
Suddenly, she was crouched, huddled and blinking behind
upraised arms. Sharp tears stung her eyes as everything became
painfully bright and light.
Slowly, she uncurled herself, trying to blink her eyes open.
But still they refused the brightness. She had to look down,
away. Her head kept hidden behind the crook of her arm.
Almost standing she became aware of sound; the sound of shoes
on concrete. Her awareness of her own nudity, her own
vulnerability, seemed to spread up her body from her bare feet
where she stood on the rough dusty concrete. She felt a kind
of numbing coldness that made her shiver and hug herself.
Her eyes still refused the light and her head remained bowed.
She knew she gave the impression of surrender, of defeat. She
wanted to stand straight, strong, confident. But the cold, the
harsh light, the fear, they all held her in the posture of
acquiescence. She knew she was beaten, beaten before she even
had a chance of fighting back.
Eventually, she could look up. The lights were bright,
pointing right at her, at her nudity, like an accusing finger.
Almost at the level of instinct, she felt her hands needing to
cover her body, her breasts, her pubis. She had to fight hard
against her own body to keep her traitorous hands by her sides
and to pull her body up from a posture of defeat. She clenched
her fists, hard, tight, down by her sides. She could feel her
sharp nails digging into her palms. She wanted the
justification of her own blood.
The pain in her palms awoke her anger. She was angry with
herself for getting into this situation. She should have known
better, expected this, prepared for it created strategies to
avoid it, and if not that, to cope with it.
She felt a presence behind the bright light. She forced
herself to relax. "Who... who's... the... there," she said,
annoyed that it came out weak and stuttering, almost a
whisper. Even she could hear the weakness, the uncertainty, in
She stood up straighter, her feet a few inches apart. She
clasped her hands behind her back, trying to relax into the
posture she had taken.
"Come on then," she said, projecting her voice so that it
echoed into the darkness. "I'm ready. I'm waiting."
There was silence, except for a faint sound, like water
dripping onto concrete, somewhere off to her left. She was
sure she could hear a slight electronic buzzing from the
powerful lights too.
"Are you ready, Sally? Are you sure?" The voice was calm,
Two loud footsteps and just a pair of black boots appeared out
of the shadows. A calculated effect. Sally had to stop herself
"Come on," she said. "That sort of thing isn't going to work.
You ought to know better than that."
"Ah," the voice said. "But, my dear Sally, I do know better
than that." The boots merged back into the shadows with the
same two footsteps.
Sally took a step forward, towards the lights.
"Wait!" The voice was loud, echoing. "Do not step out of the
light. That would be against the rules."
"Oh, yes?" Sally smiled. "And, just - may I ask - whose rules
are they?" She smiled sweetly.
"Your rules, of course."
"Then what is there to stop me from breaking my own rules?"
"Nothing, of course. Except... except your own sense of the
purpose of all this. The situation is yours. The rules are
yours. Stepping beyond the rules is up to you, of course. But
what is the point of that? What can you learn if you negate
the whole experiment, the whole experience?"
"But doesn't the whole idea of rules, of formality go against
the very nature of the reason why we are here?"
"I don't know, does it?"
"Of course it does." She was silent for a moment. "Anyway,
we've lost it now. It was... those boots - what a clich?.
After that... well." She sighed and shrugged. "Could you throw
me my clothes? Oh, and turn these bloody lights off, I'm
getting a headache." She rubbed at the marks on her wrists,
smearing the make-up, ruining the effect of rope burns. She
wiped the smeared cosmetics from her wrists with the corner of
her shirt and then shrugged it on.
With the powerful lights off, and the normal lighting turned
back on, the warehouse seemed to have lost its air of menace.
Sally looked around her. It just looked dull, dowdy and
exactly like what it was - an abandoned warehouse. All except
for the one corner, which was bright and clean where the
computers hummed and the technicians sat, waiting for her. She
picked up her white coat, slipped it on, and picked up her
clipboard from where she had left it on a broken office chair.
She strode across to the technical area.
"Right," she said. "Any thoughts?" She heard a whisper to her
left and turned sharply. "What was that, Michael? Speak up a
"N... nothing." Michael blushed and bowed down behind his
"He said you've got a beautiful body."
Sally smiled thinly. "Thank you Emma. I'm sure Michael will
thank you for sharing that with us." She put her clipboard
down on top of a nearby monitor.
Michael got slowly to his feet "Ye... Yes... Mi... Ma'a...
Sa...." He blushed again.
"Thank you? for the compliment." Sally smiled. "But did it
Michael blushed and sat down again. "Yes. Like I said last
time, by mapping your b... body movements from the video and
the sensors into the program we can get a much more
re...realistic illusion of a real person. It looses all the
a... angularity." Michael smiled. "Our heroine no longer has a
"Great, Mike. Well done." Sally smiled at him and he blushed
"I think you're in there, Mike," Rod called from the back of
the room. "Mikey's got a girl friend. Mikey's got a girl
Michael turned swiftly on his swivel chair. "Shu... shut up!"
He threw a ruler at Rod who ducked then stuck his tongue out
"Settle down. Settle down." Sally said. "You lot are worse
than a bunch of children. So... so... how did it go?"
There was a muttering of positive noises as everyone nodded
their heads enthusiastically.
"Yes, well." Sally said. She sat on a desk. She saw her skirt
had ridden up; she smiled at her automatic reflex as she
pulled the hem back over her thighs. But, she said to herself,
everyone here has just seen everything you've got, you silly
cow. "I was really inside it, really there. That is... until
"Y... yes." Michael taped a few buttons on his keyboard.
"Look." He pointed up to the big screen that took up most of
the wall behind the technical area.
At first, it just looked black, empty, but then Sally thought
she could detect something. Then she saw it, slightly paler
than the rest of the screen, a human body - her body - moving
through the darkness.
"I think it needs something," Emma said quietly. "A light, a
torch, a flare, something like that."
"Y... yes," Michael's head was nodding rapidly. "Maybe pitch
d... d... darkness at a later stage in the game. But, make it
too hard in the beginning and everyone will just give up. I
can't see where to go, what to do. I can't even really tell
that I'm b... bumping into things. There is no feedback. Even
when I map in your sensory inputs from the brain wave scanner
all I get is the feeling of panic, fear and so on, but no real
sense of why I'm feeling that way. To make it work in the
darkness we are going to have to get some kind of physical
sensation in there."
Sally thought about being in that darkness, the... the
thickness of it covering her body like a blanket, the total
disorientation, the loss of any sense of a world, the fear
that the next step could lead to falling forever.
"No," John said, dropping his pen onto his desk and swivelling
his chair to face Michael. "I've told you before that sort of
thing will push the project way over budget. Even this brain
wave scanner interface thing.... I had to work my bollocks off
to get the board even to consider the experiment. Actually
incorporating all the emotional data into the game itself...
well, that is... I'll be honest pretty unlikely at the
"Oh, shit." Michael buried his face in the palms of his hands.
"Sorry Mike," John said. "But you know... if it was up to
me... and I'll keep pushing for it, for you. You know that
"Y... yes John, thanks. Thanks for your support. I ought to
have realised, but...." Michael looked up at John. "One day,
"One day. Yes." John smiled and nodded his agreement. "Sally?"
John was looking at her. Everyone was looking at her. "No. I
want the start in darkness. Just think about it, she starts
with nothing, not even a world," Sally said eventually.
"But will they keep playing?" Emma shrugged. "I don't know."
"Oh yes they will," Rod's voice was loud in its certainty.
"Who plays all these bloody games we make - teenage boys,
that's who. Promise them that they are going to see a naked
woman as soon as they find the torch, candle, box of flares or
whatever and I can guarantee that ninety-five per-cent of them
will stay up all bloody night if necessary."
"That was another point I was going to raise," John said.
"Heaven knows I'm no prude, but...."
"But what?" Rod said. "You don't like the idea of all those
teenage sad-cases getting all manner of pervy thoughts about
your wife, our own dear Sally here?"
"No, I...." John looked around, at Sally, at Emma and back to
"Or, is it that you like the idea," Rod grinned at John.
"You little bas...." John stood up and headed towards Rod,
vaulting over one of the desks. Rod sat, still smiling at
"John!" Sally yelled. "Stop."
John stopped and stood; his shoulders slumped and head bowed.
"That's it," Rod whispered. "Do exactly what little wifey
tells you. Perhaps that's why she wants all those teenagers
lusting after her, is that what gets you all hot and bothered?
What's the matter, are you leaving her short, is she starting
to look elsewh...."
"Rod! You shut up too," Sally's voice echoed around the
silence of the warehouse. "I'd expect an apology. But you'd
have to be a real man to do that."
"Yes," Emma said, standing up and deliberately moving her
chair further away from Rod's. "And I don't think a real man
would keep slipping off to the bog with those print-offs of
Sally in the nude hidden under his shirt either."
"That's a lie!" Rod stood and pointed down at Emma. "You
should apologise to me."
Emma just smiled and tapped a button on her keyboard. "These
days it seems there are web-cams, spy-cams and mini-cams
everywhere, doesn't it? Here's one that just happened to end
up in the men's toilets."
Everyone turned to look at the big screen. The camera was at a
high angle - but it was obviously Rod walking into shot,
locking the cubicle door and easing some photographs of Sally
from under his shirt. Sally was stunned, seeing herself in the
pictures - high definition prints of her walking around the
set stark naked. She shuddered as she saw the image of Rod
dropping his trousers in the cubicle.
"Obviously Rod was a name his parents hoped he'd grow into,"
Emma said. "They must have been so disappointed. I've seen
bigger ones on my brother's pet hamsters."
"You sneaky, nosy little bitch!" Rod screamed at Emma,
standing up. His chair tipped backwards and clattered on the
hard floor. He stared at Jon, then Sally. "Are you going to
let her get away with this?"
There was no answer. The only sound was the muted heavy
breathing coming from the wall-mounted speakers on either side
of the big screen. Rod turned and looked up at the giant image
of himself on the screen.
"Right. That's it! I quit." He strode towards the door.
"Rod? Rod please!" Sally's voice was loud, strong, echoing in
the large room.
Rod turned, looking hopefully at Sally. "What?"
"Don't slam the door on your way out."
"Cow. I never fancied you anyway," Rod said, as his image on
the screen seemed to prove the exact opposite. The door
slammed as the Rod on the screen sighed and ejaculated over
the pictures of Sally. Emma tapped at her keyboard and the
image faded to blackness.
"Emma," Sally said. "Is there a good reason why you installed
one of you mini-cameras in the men's toilets?"
"Yes," John said. "I told her to. Someone was smoking dope in
there. I thought it was probably Rod, but I wanted proof. I
never expected that though."
Sally had a mental image of the pictures held in Rod's hand as
his other hand.... She shuddered and wrapped her lab coat
tight around herself.
"Second thoughts?" Emma said.
"I never liked this 'nude' idea that much anyway," John said.
"Whose idea was it?"
"Guess," Michael said.
"Oh, don't tell me. Mister wrist-action?"
"Yes, I think it was. One of the first brainstorming sessions.
That late-night one where we were all pissed." Michael said.
"Come to think of it, you didn't object to us smoking dope
that night," Emma said. "In fact, if I remember, you were
rolling most of the spliffs."
"That was different," John replied. "It wasn't company time,
or company premises. Personally, I couldn't give a damn - as
you say I like a smoke myself. But if one of the company
high-ups - or their flunkies - take it into their heads to
actually venture down her to see what it is we actually do to
pay their salaries... well."
"You don't think... all that time, effort... all the late
nights he put in. You don't think he did... all that, just to
see me in the buff, do you?" Sally looked from John to Emma to
"Me... men can do strange things when they are obsessed,"
Michael lined up the pens on his desk parallel to his
keyboard. "I know, from personal experience."
Everyone expected Michael to continue, but he was silent. The
silence grew. John coughed and the others turned towards him.
"So... shall we drop this nudity thing then?" John looked
Emma nodded. Michael nodded. Sally shook her head.
"Why not?" Emma said. "Don't you... you know... as a woman."
"Partly, yes... and no," Sally said. "But I'm tired. Shall we
call it a day?"
"That's a good idea," John said. "We'll discuss all of this.
Everything... in the morning." He headed towards the door,
shrugging on his coat. He turned to Sally. "I'll get the car,
bring it around."
Sally nodded without turning to face him as she gathered some
papers from her desk. "Okay."
"Aren't you worried," Emma said quietly. "About the effect
that this sort of stuff can have? Especially now, with things
like that brain wave interface thing of Michael's taking
emotions from real people's heads?"
"Yes. Yes I am," Sally said. "But not so much thing we do -
games and such-like. I wonder what less... benign forces will
do with the technology. That scares me. Some teenager beating
his meat because he caught a glimpse of my bush - well, that's
no big deal."
"Are you sure?" Emma said. "I saw your face when you were
watching Rod come all over those pictures of you. You weren't
so cool, so relaxed then."
Sally let the papers drop back on to her desk. "You want me to
zip up, be like some Muslim woman, only my eyes showing?"
"No. Don't be ridiculous. Because I don't really like one
thing doesn't mean I want the exact opposite. I just think we
may be underestimating the power of the technology."
"You know what?" Sally said, looking up at Emma.
"For once I agree with you. We do underestimate the power of
the technology. Do you know why?"
Emma looked puzzled. "Why?"
"Because that is what we do. We are human. Goodnight."