Don't Feed the Trolls

Don't Feed the Trolls by Erica Kudisch
 
Author: 
eBook ISBN: 
978-1-62649-558-6
eBook release: 
Apr 3, 2017
eBook Formats: 
pdf, mobi, html, epub
Print ISBN: 
978-1-62649-559-3
Print release: 
Apr 3, 2017
Word count: 
55,000
Page count: 
230
Type: 
Cover by: 
 
Ebook $3.99
Print $17.99   $14.39 (20% off!)
Print and Ebook $21.98   $15.39 (30% off!)

Gaming while female is enough to incur the wrath of the dude-bros, and they’ve come for me. Instead of fighting back, I’ve created an alternate account. Male name, male pronouns. And I’ve met this girl. I’ve always liked girls, and Laura’s adorable and smart and never gives up, and she likes me back. Or rather, she likes the man I’m pretending to be. But I can’t tell her I’m a woman without the mob coming after her too.

And besides: I might not be a woman, not really.

The truth is, I don’t know what I am anymore. I’ve spent my whole life being told how I’m supposed to act and what I’m supposed to be, but none of it feels right. And my lie is starting to feel truer than anything I’ve ever been.

There’s a convention coming up, but the closer it gets, the more I have to choose: lie or fight. But if I don’t stand my ground as a girl, am I letting the haters win?

Then again, those aren’t the only two ways to live.

Reader discretion advised. This title contains the following sensitive themes:

assault, online harassment

Prologue

FROM: Martin Summers (summers@summerstorm.net)

TO: Fatiguee Altestis (je.suis.fatiguee@qmail.com)

CC: Publicity (publicity@summerstorm.net), Max Long (veep1@summerstorm.net), Luis Lender (veep2@summerstorm.net), Farah Mackinnon (erstory@summerstorm.net), Carl Jenkins (chair@geekon.com)

SUBJECT: Eternal Reign Novelization Contest Results

Her Grace the Duchess Fatiguee,

Congratulations! We’re sending this out before the official article drops on the website, in case your spam filter eats the general notification.

A winner is you!

Not just a winner. The winner. The panel really enjoyed The Annals of Altestis and thinks you and your knights have been taking advantage of the gameplay freedoms of Eternal Reign in exciting and innovative ways. GeeKon should be in touch with you in a few hours about your badge, and you can contact the publicity department (CC’d above) if you have any questions before the convention.

We look forward to meeting with you at GeeKon to discuss future opportunities. Our creative team is always looking for new ideas, and who better than the players to shape the direction of the game? In the meantime, keep enjoying Eternal Reign.

Martin Summers

President, SummerStorm Entertainment Inc.

summers@summerstorm.net

“I have to have a creative role otherwise I simply wouldn’t come into work.” —Hideo Kojima

 

Holy shit.

This had better be real. I’m not about to go into literal shock over a hoax. But all those email addresses are real; I would know, I sent the manuscript to half of them two months ago and the other half are household names, at least in a household like mine. So it’s real. Seventy percent chance of real. I can take those odds. I’m allowed to get excited about those odds. Those are callback odds.

Okay. Odds. Calculating odds by facts is better than sitting here wondering. Fact one: The email was apparently sent forty minutes ago. I received it forty seconds ago, but hey, Alain’s hogging the bandwidth. Fact two: I’ll have confirmation when—if—it drops on the website, and while that’s not impossible to fake and there might be something lost in translation, it’s damned difficult, and if someone went through the trouble to rile me up, I should probably let them. Fact three: I’m going into shock anyway, because a seventy percent chance of real apparently doesn’t let me decide whether I’m excited or not, and screw the facts.

I shove back my computer chair and try not to shriek too loud.

Jackie bangs on the wall between our bedrooms anyway. “All right in there?”

“Fine!”

“I thought it wasn’t a raid night,” Alain calls from the living room. I didn’t have my door closed, so now that I’ve rolled the chair back I can see him sprawled on the couch, simultaneously playing Ultimate Odyssey XIII (or XIV, I’ve lost count) and breaking in a new pair of drag shoes. He catches my eye and shifts from obvious concern to more optimistic surprise. “Good news?”

“Maybe,” I admit, and wheel the chair closer to the doorway. It doesn’t fit through (we had to build it in here when I moved in) but hey, close is close. “You remember that contest thing I told you about?”

“The Kristin Chenoweth master class thing?”

“No, the Eternal Reign thing.” And whoomp, there it is: even if I really have won this contest, I shouldn’t have entered in the first place. I’m supposed to be auditioning and pressuring my agent into finding me work that isn’t Oklahoma in Oklahoma for the third summer in a row, and here I am, playing MMOs eight hours a day and writing a hundred thousand-plus words of glorified bluebook. But never mind that, and never mind the acid guilt threatening to eat its way out of my stomach. Those hundred thousand words of roleplay logs landed me a seventy percent real chance of an industry interview.

They might seriously hire me. Or at least consult me for user-generated content. It wouldn’t be acting, but it would be a job (maybe!) doing something I love and impressing myself on the media I’ve enjoyed for years. Isn’t that all I really want from acting anyway? To do what I love and get recognition for it?

Since Alain can’t hear inside my head (and he definitely can’t hear much at all over the mediocre English voice acting in this game), he didn’t get all that, and asks, “What, you’re in the finals?”

“Actually, I think I won.”

I swear to god, the Ultimate Odyssey victory theme plays. Alain puts the PS3 controller down. “You think?”

“I mean, I just got an email about it. From SummerStorm.”

Alain stares at me like I’ve started speaking Chinese instead of French. Then blinks. Then drops the controller, mutters, “Thank god for autosave,” and throws himself at me.

I’m sitting in the desk chair. He’s bigger than me (even if he’s assholishly skinny) and wearing the spikiest knockoff Louboutins I’ve ever seen. Somehow, Alain manages not to scratch me while he’s hugging me like a big dog whose master just got home. And he’s shouting congratulations to high heaven, so fast I can’t make out the words. I hug him back, as best I can.

“Let me see!” Alain trills, spinning my desk chair around to get into my bedroom. “Still up?”

“Yeah. Make sure I’m not hallucinating?” Not that Alain will be able to do much more checking than I have, but—

“It’s real,” Jackie says from her room. “It dropped on Twitter.”

I scramble for my phone, since Alain’s evidently taken over my computer—and the phone isn’t in my pocket. I left it on the desk. Whoops. But a couple of passwords and swipes later, it’s real there too:

@EternalReign (Verified member)

ER Contest results are in. Congrats to Duchess Fatiguee of Altestis, and her counts and knights! bit.ly/gh345ny

Well, there goes seventy percent real. It’s now Twitter real.

Alain pounces on me again, so hard my phone goes flying. Thankfully, it doesn’t hit either of my monitors, just the wall. And yup, I’m in literal shock, because even though I’m standing now, I still feel like Alain’s holding up most of my weight.

And then, no, it’s not only him. Jackie’s here too. Naked, because Jackie, and Naked-Jackie-Watching-Anime is a thing, and I’ve definitely interrupted it, but here she is and it’s a three-way hug. Like the old days. I think all our Musketqueer tattoos are out too, poetic as it is.

Jackie, Alain, and I met about fifteen years ago, when my family came to America and I wound up at the French-American School upstate. They had the dubious honor of being the only out kids in our high school until I got there. Alain thereafter encouraged Jackie to hit on me, “because as long as there’s another girl who likes girls they might as well be together,” he said then, in his inestimable fourteen-year-old wisdom. Little did he know we wouldn’t hook up, just team up, and then it was all for one and one for all. Matching tattoos the summer we all graduated: three sabers raised high. And then Jackie, who still hasn’t outgrown her habit of taking in prodigals and strays, got the gang together again after college to pay less rent than we should on an apartment in Manhattan. I swear, it started as me needing a place to crash when I wasn’t on tour, but hey, I haven’t been on tour in three years, and—

God. Can’t I fucking be happy about anything?

“So what’s next?” Alain asks, and a good thing too, otherwise it’s maudlin o’clock. “Prizes? Interviews?”

“Both. I’m supposed to get a free badge to GeeKon, and then interview there.”

“Where’s GeeKon?”

Jackie answers before I can: “Seattle, usually November.”

Of course she knows. Jackie’s been to more conventions than me and Alain combined, since she does panels as Lady Francois, fanfiction author and smut peddler extraordinaire. As double lives go, hers might be the least embarrassing of all of ours. She writes millions of words about magical girls in love and saves teenagers from a life bereft of female sexuality. Alain performs in drag clubs around the city as Ivy LeVine—well, that’s not embarrassing, just hard to talk about with new people. Not that there are many new people, since Alain meets far more new people as Ivy than he does as himself.

And I, um. When I’m not Daphne Benoit, perpetually struggling actress, I’m the Duchess Fatiguee of Altestis, in the fictional world of Eternal Reign. Also known as Daphne Benoit, MMORPG addict.

Hi.

“Dinner’s on me,” Jackie says, disengaging from the hug pile to head to her room and get her phone. And possibly underwear.

I swear it’s reflexive. “You don’t have to—”

“Let her,” Alain says. He bounds back to the couch (bounding in seven-inch pumps is a feat known only to epic-level drag queens) and picks up the PS3 controller again. “If she doesn’t, Orin will. And if Orin doesn’t call within five minutes, I’ll buy the beer myself.”

I sit down on the armchair, since Alain takes up pretty much the entire couch with his legs stretched out like this. I don’t know how he plays sitting less than bullet-straight with his feet on the floor. Then again, Alain doesn’t do anything bullet-straight. “I’m not taking that bet.”

Alain grins. “You won’t have to. Your phone’s ringing.”

No, it’s not, that’s a text tone. Same difference, though. And once I read it, I’m glad I have the prudence not to make bets about Orin.

Provisions en route, Your Grace. The magic of Seamless conveys gifts of pizza and beer from far-off Rochester. Celebrate as befits a benevolent despot! (Also congrats, you.)

God, Orin’s a dork. But a dork that’s mostly made me smile for, what now, eight years? Fuck I’m old. Well, we’re all old. And fed, apparently. I text back, Your tithe is accepted, my loyal Sachem. And then, for good measure, so he doesn’t get the wrong idea, (Thanks! Couldn’t have done it without you.) Which may not be quite enough to dissuade him from the wrong idea. But it’s too late now, and I should warn Jackie not to order too much food.

I take care of all that—can’t stop Jackie from ordering entirely, but she can afford it and leftovers aren’t a crime. And then there’s nothing to do but wait, and celebrate a little.

I head back into my room, sit down at the computer. It’s real. I’m really going to meet with the creators of Eternal Reign. I really impressed someone, won something, for the first time in ages. I can relax. I can gloat. I can scroll through the announcement websites and tweets and maybe even post it on Facebook for all my people who don’t want to read it in English. I tilt back the chair until it creaks, just breathe for a while.

Something good. Finally, something real is also something good.

I should log in and announce it to my knights. It’s their story too, after all. I boot up Eternal Reign, skip the auto-updates and head straight for the messaging system. I last logged on about three hours ago and it’s not a campaign night, so most of these new messages are probably about the contest. Good to see the knights are in line—

—or not.

GONNA FUCK YOUR FACE BITCH WRITE ABOUT THAT

go home u fake cunt

gtfo feminazi scum

How about you put my dick in your fucking Anals of Allthesetits?

looks like someone got a facial from Summers!!

Congratulations, whore. Gonna show my appreciation for your fucking trash romance novel by pillaging your ass, just like you want it.

kill yourself

WRITE ABOUT ME CLIMBING IN YOUR WINDOW AND RAPING YOU TO DEATH BITCH

. . . Holy shit.

 

Chapter One

There is unrest in the Duchy of Altestis. It’s not just that the borders are under siege—they are always under siege, since the eternal part of Eternal Reign is a misnomer—nor that there seems to be similar unrest in her neighboring provinces, even though that’s entirely true. No, the unrest in Altestis is the legend of the Fisher King in action.

Every day for the last several weeks when the Duchess Fatiguee first logs in, she deals with her correspondence. She receives dozens, sometimes hundreds, of missives each morning. Some of these are petitions from her landholders and knights for assistance or repair. Some are information about server downtime or upgrades. A few are congratulations, especially from the players whose stories she included in her annals, which have since been recognized by the Council of Gerents. But the vast majority of the missives are requests that she, alternately, get raped or die. Sometimes simultaneously. Sometimes not in that order.

(That most of these requests are directed at me instead of Fatiguee is largely inconsequential. But she’s made of code, and I’m not, and the developers didn’t write rape into the pillaging mechanic. Small mercies, I guess.)

It’s been a week. The save file of harassment screencaps is bigger than the final draft of the Annals, because I’m saving the images as hi-res as I can so no one can say I’m faking them. Well, so fewer people can say I’m faking them. They can say whatever they want, apparently. Free country, free server. Free-to-play game. Free speech according to the populist definition. I’ve spent more time on the phone with the predictably imbecilic NYPD than I have on campaign, and that’s basically what they said. Talking smack isn’t illegal in America.

It wouldn’t matter back in France either. Madame Guillotine didn’t talk smack. She just lopped off heads.

According to a lot of semi-legit internet lawyers, if I want the cops to do anything about it, I have to document everything. No one ever tells you that documenting everything means reading it all twice.

Of course I know that gaming while female is some kind of sin to these assclowns, but they don’t know that Fatiguee has a female player and they’re still going on about bitch, whore, cunt. They assume I’ve got one of those, and I do, but even if I didn’t they’d say I did. Because apparently it’s an affront to look female whether you are or not, to have any ostensibly female parts or traits or whatever for someone with a dick to exploit and correct.

God, what a fine fucking line to walk. Here I am, assuming these dickheads have dicks.

It’s playground bullshit all over again, Not All Men and Yes All Women, like woman is some monolithic universal concept. I’m playing a game on the internet and these trolls literally can’t see what I am on the other side, and yet they assume enough to feminize it. Nuance doesn’t exist on the internet. It barely exists in the real world. Hell, the drag queen I live with insists on being one or the other and nothing between, and clearly he’s got more right to angst about gender than I do.

I should probably do something else. I don’t know, work. Go to a dance class. Stage combat. Redo my audition binder. Something that gets me out of the apartment. But anything that would get me out of the house either costs money or nets nothing.

I could clean the place. I owe Alain and Jackie anyway. Of course I told them right away, if by told them I mean flipped the fuck out immediately and thereupon converted the celebratory dinner into a pity party. I then proceeded to get blackout drunk, which was a great idea at the time but horrible in the morning since I concluded, upon waking up, that the whole thing was a nightmare and subsequently there was no reason for me not to log on. Which meant lather, rinse, repeat.

Right. Cleaning the apartment. At least that gets me away from the computer.

I throw on the crappiest shirt I have—How I Mine For Fish?, circa 2005—and get to work. My room isn’t that bad, just a couple of shirts that missed the hamper and a rug that needs shaking. I’ll find more to do in the living room, I think—yup, Alain left it a mess. He doesn’t mind me sorting his makeup, so I get to work on the table and organize it all back into his kit. God, it’s nice not thinking about anything but whether honey is supposed to be lighter or darker than mahogany. Once that’s done, I get out the Swiffer and go to town.

For a couple of years, right after college, I was a literal French maid. I couldn’t get any work temping no matter how I tried to hide my accent. If I had a dollar for every time someone made a joke about putting me in the proper uniform, I’d have more dollars than I made. But the skills stick with you, even if you started out a rich brat whose parents are still appalled that you’re not behind a desk at the UN. Fuck, I’ll never be able to tell them about this online ridiculousness— Nope. Cleaning! Not thinking! Scrubbing floors and washing walls and emptying chamber pots!

Better. Menial. But better.

In fact, I should put on some music that has nothing to do with gaming and everything to do with my ostensible choice of career. I turn on the Cabaret revival soundtrack (because whatever else is going on, my life sucks less than interwar Germany) and knuckle down in the living room. Act one passes in a perpetuity of Lysol, and by the time I’m running out of things to do, “Two Ladies” is playing.

Well, that’s just prophetic.

The last time I was in Cabaret was summer stock in Nebraska, five years ago maybe. The guy playing the Emcee was a grade-A asshole, but I still wanted to be in “Two Ladies” because that song is hilarious and one of the only ways to feature in that ensemble that doesn’t involve a gorilla suit. But ironically enough, the staging for “Two Ladies” only requires one, because in the international language of theater the gag of a man crossdressing is funnier than a woman attempting comedy, and ever since the movie version staged it that way the song has been about bisexuality. Therefore, with only one slot for a woman available and all six of us in the ensemble gunning for it, of course I didn’t get the part.

They picked the most feminine girl. And the butchest chorus boy. Because they wanted the audience to be a hundred percent aware that one of those girls has a dick. Because that’s funny.

You know what else is funny? My agent’s special ringtone. It’s “All I Care About Is Love” from Chicago, and it’s playing right now, and despite the shows having the same composers, it completely clashes with my Cabaret playlist.

I answer the phone, then turn the music off, then speak. “Bonjour, Julio.”

“English, Daphne,” he chides.

I should smile. Fake it till you make it, and all that. So I fake it. “I assume you’re calling with good news?”

“Unfortunately no, but I’ll give you the good parts first. You’ve got a guaranteed slot at next season’s Live From Lincoln Center auditions. They like you, they just don’t have a place for you this year.”

Great. Just great. “Or last year. I think they’ve been saying that since Tiler Peck sniped me in Carousel.”

Julio evidently takes this as a joke. Maybe he can hear the fake smile. “Well, they wanted someone who looks more like a ballerina, that’s all. And I think they’ve got the same excuse this time. Wait a second, I’ve got their notes right here.”

“Fine.” It’s not going to do anything for the shreds of my self-esteem, but a good actor always takes the note. Let the authorities say What They See, tailor yourself to it.

“All right, here we are. ‘Excellent dancer, incongruent with rest of ensemble.’ See? Not bad at all. They just wanted a uniform chorus line.”

“Okay. Incongruent how, Julio?”

“They didn’t exactly write that in the email. But if I had to guess based on the ones I know got in, it’s probably your arms.”

“My arms.”

“Yeah, I’d say they wanted delicate arms. You look like you work out, you know that, and your tattoo probably drew their eye. It’s not the most feminine art in the world. Maybe cover it up next time and see if that works.”

It’s his job to say this. It’s my job to hear it and accept it and move on. And it’s better than the whole world of crap on the internet I’m not permitting myself to think about. Marginally.

No, it’s not even marginally better: it’s exactly the same. It’s still a man, telling me to be a woman, because anything else is aberrant.

“Note taken,” I tell him. It’s a bald-faced lie, of course, but I’m an actress after all. And once we’ve taken care of the rest of this business, I head back to my room and stuff a bandana into my kit bag. For next time.

* * * * *

Alain walks in when I’ve already started on the kitchen, so I must have successfully not thought about things for half an hour. “Hey,” he says. “One of those days?”

“I sorted your box,” I nonanswer. “How was work?”

He plunks a small Sephora bag down on the coffee table, right next to the makeup I’ve already dealt with. I can tell he wants to talk about it—the raised eyebrow is definitely not penciled in. But he doesn’t speak up. Alain knows when to fold ’em. Words, I mean. Not clothes. “Not bad. Definitely going to see the same bachelorettes at Red Stamp tonight. I hope they tip better when I’m wearing the face instead of putting it on them.”

Good, he’s distracted enough to talk about himself. I keep unpacking the dry-goods cabinet. “They probably will.”

“Yeah, unless they pass out.” He checks that the countertop is clean before he swings up and sits on it. “What do you think Ivy should wear tonight?”

“What are you performing?”

“I don’t know, it’s fishbowl night.”

The last time I saw Alain—as Ivy—at a fishbowl night, he drew “All About That Bass.” It didn’t exactly work, since he barely even pads back there. “In that case, I don’t know either. Got anything new?”

He grins. “Thought you’d never ask.” He lifts one wrist and waggles his fingers, flashing the spiky cuff and stacked silver claw rings. “Think I can build something around these?”

By Alain’s own condemnation, I have about as much style as a toilet paper shoe trail. But the answer to that question is always “Yeah.” It looks enough like what Alain usually wears—he tends to mirror the Japanese RPG heroes he loves so much, even if the trademarked Nomura looks aren’t designed with Algerians like him in mind—belts and all his jewelry stacked on the left like armor. Ivy doesn’t look like she walked out of Ultimate Odyssey, more like she walked out of Rammstein’s apartment at four in the morning to get another box of condoms and some coke. I’m not sure claw rings are quite right for Ivy, but there’s enough of a difference between the two styles that maybe I’m just not seeing something. And Alain’s the kind of person who cares about both of those styles as belonging to separate people. Alain is Alain, and Ivy is Ivy.

It must be really useful having someone else to retreat to.

Wait. Wait.

It’s not unheard of. I’ve never done it, just because I’ve wanted to see more women in the games I play, but I know a few guys in my fief who play female knights, and a count with a female player. But it’s impossible to know for some of the others. Not everyone uses voice chat, and even if they did, it’s not as if voices in the middle range can be identified as one or the other. If my inbox full of bullshit is anything to go on, the trolls will assume male avatars have male players. And I’ve never taken it at anything but face value: if a player tells me he’s a guy, he’s a guy.

Other players might do that for me. On a new server. In a new fief. And no one would be the wiser.

More importantly, no one would be threatening to rape me to death. Probably.

“Earth to Daphne, come in Daphne,” Alain says, leaning in and twirling his finger in my face.

I drop the sponge. Not on his leggings, but close enough. “Sorry. Just trying to fix my life.”

He clunks his head against mine, nose to nose. “You know we’ve got you, right? One for all.”

“All for one,” I countersign. “I know.” And I do believe him, but I can handle this alone. I think.

* * * * *

I boot up character creation, crack my neck, and go to work.

Eternal Reign runs on the premise that back in the Age of Discovery, Magellan sailed off the end of the Earth and wound up in the endless oceans of another world. Five races compete for turf and resources, Tudor-style: Settlers, Kharthi, Aqueian, Touched, and Liqing. Fatiguee is Touched: I set her up to play a long courtiering game since I was going to be dealing with real-world shows and schedules, and it’s pretty easy to form alliances among other Touched. I could make this alt another, but that kind of defeats the purpose of making an alt in the first place. He’s going to be different.

And a he. Yes. I’m going to tick that box and be a guy on the internet.

Only two options in the game, after all.

And I’ll play a Settler, I think. If I’m going to make a new character on a new server environment where I don’t know any of the players, I should probably create something straightforward and adaptable, since I don’t know the lay of the land. I don’t think I’ll have to go pirate, but it’s a safe bet to build a decent seaman. I design a rougish-looking fellow, sun-browned, blond hair, kitted out in a leather doublet and a facial tattoo. If only it was this easy in real life, creating a face to show the world, a person to be.

Skill points in capital, craft, persuasion—no, not persuasion. I’m not going to play a court game. I know what it’s like for my counts to be wrapped up in Fatiguee’s. I guess that’s the double-edged sword of Eternal Reign: with the players creating the content, I don’t have to play in a game as cutthroat as the one I created. I could join a merchants’ guild or a pirate flotilla or assist in the defense of a wargame, depending on the climate of the new server. Navigation, then. I’ll make him a navigator. That’s always useful, I remember one of Orin’s knights lamenting that his expeditionary force is held up because the navigator just started law school, and they can’t find a new one. If the low-level knights here have the same problem, I’ll gladly step in to fill that void. So male, Settler, navigator. That fills out the rest of my skills and stats easily enough, and from there, I only need a name.

Names are always the hardest. Hell, I only came up with Fatiguee because I literally said I was tired of looking and it stuck. I start typing in random test letters, and nothing’s right. Cousins’ names, nope. Characters from other games, nope. I can’t use my default ones if I don’t want to be found out, in case the trolls decide to track me here. I don’t want even Orin to guess that I’ve hopped servers because I’ve been effectively banned from my own.

Banned. Benedict. Ban Edict. Bannedict. That’ll work. I’d trust a player who used that name to have a sense of humor. There I go: he’s Bannedict, and a few clicks later I wind up with my starting fief, Verohno.

That was easier than I thought it would be, honestly. And safer. I already feel like a weight’s off my shoulders, starting from scratch. I don’t have to deal with more aggro than any other new player, and even that shouldn’t be much since I’m starting out in charted waters. I bring up the map screen: Verohno is right on the edge of Count Rynek’s territory, so I guess he’s my liege, and the sovereign is—

NEW MESSAGE: Duchess Uhruu summons you. [Text] [Voice] [Video]

Well, that was fast. As Fatiguee I usually let the counts handle new players if they’re on, since they’ll be likely to interact with them directly.

I click [Text]. Voice chat would be easier—but text is safer. I think.

UHRUU*D: Welcome, traveler. New to ER?

Uhruu’s character portrait shows a Kharthi female with saturated green skin and lots of gold bling in her seaweed hair. A quick look at her stats shows I just walked into a convoy game: her fleet is sixty ships strong, but her land holdings are twenty-seven, close to the bare minimum for a duchess. That’s not a bad scenario for a new navigator, and a new navigator in the hands of a veteran player like me is deceptively useful. Duchess Uhruu’s been playing for at least a year, so she’d know that, but she’s sent me a neutral hail. I make sure to type differently than I usually do, just in case someone traces this back to me.

BANNEDICT: hail! no, old soul, new alt

I’m not going to pretend otherwise. It’s to her advantage anyway.

UHRUU*D*: Great! If you’re new to this server, I’m glad to lay down the rules.

Rules? In Eternal Reign? Well, if she’s the most powerful person on the server, she can make whatever rules she wants. But I know most of my knights and counts live by Rien n’est vrai, tout es permis, and relish that they’re playing a game where nothing is sacred, PVP is permitted, and until a week ago I would have counted myself among them. But if Uhruu plans to lay down the law, unlike me with Fatiguee, that means she can effectively punish those who break it, doesn’t it?

Either way, I’m curious.

UHRUU*D*: I know it’s a game, so I can’t stop you from trying to infiltrate my ranks. Character-versus-character violence isn’t something I can explicitly prevent, though I assure you, it’s something I can avenge. But player-versus-player violence, including harassment, doxxing, and use of real-world sabotage to influence in-game events, will meet with in-game ostracism and out-of-game reporting to the Council of Gerents.

Those are the best words I could possibly hear now, shy of You just got cast as Hamlet in the new Broadway production or Every single person who spammed your account has come down with genital warts.

BANNEDICT: that’s a relief. i came here to avoid exactly that, so i think we’ll get along fine

UHRUU*D*: I’m sorry. I’ve been there. You need any help in advance, just say the word.

BANNEDICT: thanks

UHRUU*D*: No problem.

That’s the last I hear from her for a while: another hail pops up, standard LFG, and it turns out I was entirely correct to make a navigator. A small fleet under Count Rynek needs assistance on a pirate hunt, raid scheduled tomorrow at 7 p.m. EST, and yes, I’m down. Rynek imparts a good place to grind solo, just outside of charted waters, and I’ve got enough nav skill to tell that he’s not lying, so there goes the better part of three hours.

It’s strange, not having the story to tell like I have with Fatiguee, but hey, maybe Sir Bannedict will become a character in someone else’s. And it’s relaxing, which is more than I can say about everything I’ve done as Fatiguee for the last two years. High risk, high reward, I guess, until the reward starts being Grade-A Bullshit.

Or fish heads. Great, looks like I have to find someone to melt those into machine oil . . .

* * * * *

Six hours and two failed attempts at bomb-making later, the Duchess Uhruu’s window pops up again.

UHRUU*D*: Did you find someone to work with?

BANNEDICT: yeah. it’s kind of you to check in

UHRUU*D*: You haven’t played with many conscientious sovereigns, have you?

BANNEDICT: you have no idea

UHRUU*D*: Ha. Well, don’t name names unless you have to worry about them here.

BANNEDICT: i don’t think i will

BANNEDICT: i came from another server and i don’t think they’ll follow me

BANNEDICT: rubicon crossed, bridges burned

BANNEDICT: if you can burn bridges made of pixilated water i mean

UHRUU*D*: Haha yeah. I get it. Just message me if you have to. Or if you don’t, that’s fine too.

BANNEDICT: i will

UHRUU*D*: Should I let you go?

BANNEDICT: no, sorry

BANNEDICT: you’re not annoying me i promise, im flattered

BANNEDICT: english isn’t my first language and i’ve been told i can come across final in it

BANNEDICT: but i’m blunt in french too so yeah

UHRUU*D*: Canadian?

BANNEDICT: no, french living in the us

UHRUU*D*: Ah, cool. I ask because I’m in Seattle and we get a lot of disgruntled Vancouverites. And half of my counts are Quebecois.

BANNEDICT: ha

BANNEDICT: that’s going to help on voice chat

UHRUU*D*: I don’t doubt it. You’re working your way up as a navigator?

BANNEDICT: yeah

UHRUU*D*: I’ll convey it to the others. The highest ranked is Count Dhalinhwa. IRL he’s got a 3 year old so he needs all the help he can get.

BANNEDICT: i’ll keep that in mind

BANNEDICT: you have a tight handle on this

UHRUU*D*: I got sick of lawless players.

BANNEDICT: i don’t blame you

BANNEDICT: it’s why i’m here

BANNEDICT: but if you’re that tired of it why keep playing here

UHRUU*D*: You can hate the players without hating the game, I guess. Or you can create places within the game where you don’t hate the players. I know a lot of people use ER to be assholes, but it’s got the potential to be so much more. And if they’ve got the freedom to be assholes, I’ve got the freedom to be decent.

BANNEDICT: amen

UHRUU*D*: So yeah. The game’s what the players make it, and I’m making it the kind I want to play, because if they can, so can I.

BANNEDICT: i’ve never heard anyone put it that way before

BANNEDICT: is it forward to say that’s really beautiful?

UHRUU*D*: Forward, maybe, but flattering. And thank you.

BANNEDICT: you’re welcome

BANNEDICT: i hope i can do the same

UHRUU*D*: I know you can. And again, thank you. Sometimes I need to hear I’m not crazy.

BANNEDICT: well you’re not

BANNEDICT: those guys are the crazy ones trying to scare people out of having a good time

UHRUU*D*: And this guy isn’t?

BANNEDICT: no, this guy just wants to chart the endless sea without hate mail popping up every five seconds

UHRUU*D*: Well then this guy and I should get along just fine.

BANNEDICT: this guy agrees completely

UHRUU*D*: Haha. Does this guy have a name he’d prefer to be called OOC? Mine would be Laura.

I type my real name reflexively, like everything else in this conversation—fuck, she’s easy to talk to. And she gets the harrassment, which is more than I can say for anyone else I’ve talked to so far, even Alain and Jackie.

But Fatiguee’s name is already out there, contest winner and all, and my real name won’t be far behind. I shouldn’t use it. And Uhruu—Laura—is already thinking of me as a guy. A name he’d prefer. That is the whole point, isn’t it? To be someone else.

At least my name has a masculine alternative.

BANNEDICT: daphnis

BANNEDICT: my name is daphnis

UHRUU*D*: Nice to meet you, Daphnis.

BANNEDICT: enchante

from Kirkus

A contemporary romance that will pleasantly surprise readers willing to try a new type of heroine.