Translated by KarateChopMonkey of Exiled Rebels Scanlations
Dill thought that if there really were buried psychopathic geniuses and sunken sociopathic treasures in this world, it would be these people in front of him.
He was now sitting on an old sofa in an unidentified basement, looking at a pile of strange instruments and computer screens, as well as dirty coffee cups on the table and post-it notes on glass plates. In front of him were five people, either sitting or standing.
And directly in front of him, on the office chair, sat a thin blond white male with hair like the fur of an old shepherd dog, covering his eyes; to his side of the table leaned a young black man with a stern gaze; right in front of him with a tablet computer was a young Asian man with glasses, quite young-looking, making it impossible to tell his age; a small older man who looked to have Jewish ancestry stared dead ahead; and a pretty Latina girl sat at the table.
These five people shared the same characteristics: they were wearing white coats like a research team.
Dill was sitting in front of them, glancing uneasily at the room of instruments of unclear purpose, almost suspecting that a clown would next say ‘I want to play a game’…
“Mr. Dill Donaldson, you’re 25 years old, unemployed but working part time. Your part time job is to provide special services and only occasionally receive women. You broke off your relationship with your conservative religious family and are out on your own. At present you haven’t paid your rent, so your landlord is planning to sue you, meanwhile you owe a sum of money from a few years ago, and now there’s a group of people looking for you all day long…” The Latina looked through a file and raised her eyes at Dill, “You submitted an application a few days ago to volunteer to be a medical tester for Inglaterra.”
Dill nodded and looked at her with trepidation. “So… who are you? Inglaterra?” Dill asked, “I thought that company was…”
“Congratulations on getting the job,” the scruffy thin man with hair covering his eyes said, “Based on your application, we decided to do some personnel optimization and transfer you to this department of laboratory animals… no, laboratory staff. It’s a pleasure to meet you. My name is Emond.”
This statement was so suspicious that it couldn’t be any more suspicious, it would be a hell of a thing if anyone believed it right away. These people ignored Dill’s tangled expression and began to introduce themselves one by one.
“Mark, the set designer.” The black man said.
“Pollan, I’m a physician. If you have any physical discomfort you can call me, I have prescriptive authority. And I would never commit a misdemeanor against you outside of a medical act.” The short, middle-aged man said with a lustful expression on his face.
“Cecil Lee,” the young Asian man extended his hand to Dill, “I’m actually called ‘Li Tong’, I’d prefer you to call me that, if you’re comfortable with it. Oh, and I’m the program leader and scenario planner.”
And finally, the beautiful girl with black hair, “I’m Arriet. The stylist.”
Dill thought darkly, You guys look almost like the lead team in a sci-fi movie; five people, with girls, black and Asian, and a gay… He looked over at the so-called physician who had the most obscene smile.
However, if it was the testing of medical devices and drugs, then why were there a “set designer”, a “scenario planner” and a “stylist”?
“I apologize for accepting you in a dazed manner,” the thin Emond spoke breathlessly, “as these studies are to be kept confidential at this time. Now let me briefly explain the nature of the test you will be participating in… You will be making love to a robot.”
“What?” Dill nearly jumped up in surprise. The five people exchanged glances with each other as if to say, ‘See, that’s how I figured he’d react’.
But when Emond took out the agreement and showed Dill the amount of compensation that was clearly stated there, Dill decided to suppress all his curiosity, questions, ridicule and sarcasm. The terms were too tempting, and the pay was more generous than the base package posted on the Internet. Not to mention making love with a machine, now Dill would even dare to make love with the devil.
The five men took Dill to another room, changed his clothes (now Dill was changed into a back-laced gown worn only by patients), got him disinfected, and stored his belongings, etc. Then they walked down a long white hallway to a door.
“The first simple test is actually a test of your tolerance,” Dr. Pollan told Dill with a serious expression before entering the room, “It won’t go too far, and we’ll monitor your status. If you seem to have a problem we will abort.”
“Wait, what are you talking about? I’m totally confused…” Dill was slapped on the butt by him and pushed into the room, then Mark and Lee also followed inside to debug the instruments.
It was a room that resembled a private consultation room. Emond entered a few strings of codes into the built-in locker, the door opened, and a robot was secured there. Dill looked at it and felt a pang of discomfort. He originally thought that the robot referred to something like a doll or an electric appliance… he heard that there were many companies nowadays who make the appearance of robots very human-like; they would blink, turn their heads and say ‘good morning’, although their looks were quite the uncanny valley.
But this robot wasn’t at all like the ones in his imagination. It was basically not human and was shaped like some kind of insect, with a bunch of parts and bionic structures that Dill couldn’t name.
Emond let Dill lie on the consultation table, and the robot (actually should be called a machine, that didn’t look like a person) was placed on the rails next to the consultation table.
They put a lot of patches on Dill, only patches, no wires and tubes. Dill heard Lee ask Emond, “We start with the 7-03?”
Emond nodded, looking as if he was shaking as he did so, “That one might be easier for Mr. Dill Donaldson. After all, he has the foundation.”
“But you said that the modules were safe, about the same load as a normal sleep dream would cause.”
“It’s about the same, mostly ethical and human emotional discomfort.”
“Wait, what exactly are you guys talking about? I’m not supposed to have sex with a machine, right? Is it about collecting whatever or…” Dill sat up uneasily as he watched the five people in white coats prepare to leave.
Emond turned back with a bitter look on his face, “Do you like watching movies? Have you seen ‘Inception’? It’s similar to that, don’t be afraid. Of course, not quite the same as that, that one is a pure sleep dream, while in this project it’s half real and half fake.”
“Can you have the mercy to describe it in a simpler and easier to understand way?” Dill was still a little scared, even if he would get a lot of money for this.
Emond pondered while Lee quickly came up with a lively way to put it, “We could call it — a new interactive experimental private film.”
The researchers exited and the lights in the room went out. In the darkness Dill felt even more frightened. He heard the sound of a fast-flowing gas blowing out, but the sound was too close for it to be coming from the exhaust vent. Then it occurred to him that it was the machine, which was approaching along the rails, as it began to release the gas.
What is this? Dill instinctively reached out and grabbed the edge of the bed, but then suddenly felt a hand take his. There was body heat, a firm but not heavy force; it was indeed a human hand.
But it can’t be… That machine has no hands at all anywhere on its body. Dill thought drowsily.
Mike let go of Sheens’ hand, sank back into the couch and lit a cigarette, watching Sheens slowly shave, slap on aftershave, apply maintenance products, and so on.
“I saw a familiar face just now,” Mike said, “going out of here, your guest.”
“Familiar?” Sheens looked back at his old friend, “It’s not good to see someone who looks familiar to you. Could he have been your guest too? Or is he your target?”
“Neither. A funny thing happened yesterday. That man was an outsider, you know that, right?”
“I know, Kroll introduced him, seems to be here on business.”
Mike snorted, “I was in front of Old John’s bar last night. The outsider came out and accosted me, and said things like ‘are you expecting a girlfriend’, ‘how much’, ‘I’m not too kinky’, and stuff like that…”
Sheens laughed, “I get it! He thought of you as someone like me. In fact, he had a particularly funny look on his face when he saw me yesterday. Ambis rarely has out-of-towners staying, can’t help it, you have to be understanding of them.”
Mike put out his half-burned cigarette, walked over and pressed against Sheens to look at the two of them in the mirror. His neck and arms were covered with tattoos and his blond hair was messy and cascading, while Sheens had neat hair and clean skin, with only a small mark on the side of his neck; their bodies were pressed together in an indescribable ambiguity.
“You’re letting your guests see this? Is this alright?” Mike gave a complementary kiss on the mark.
“It’s not like he doesn’t know what I’m doing, so what’s the surprise,” Sheens was washing up and hadn’t had a chance to put on his shirt, and looking at Mike’s movements at this point, he was afraid he wouldn’t have to put it on for a while, “Mike… Hey, I was wondering if you have some kind of mental disorder. Every time I do this ‘part-time’, the next day, you have to immediately run to fuck me.”
“What kind of psychological disorder would that be? Who told you to have this addiction? You could’ve stopped doing that.” Mike, with his long, slender but strong arms dragged Sheens into the house on the couch and pressed him into the cushions.
“I didn’t even despise your part-time job, and you’re discriminating against me. But don’t forget, you’ve done enough to be given a life sentence, and I’m just a little mistake…” Before Sheens could finish, his mouth was blocked by Mike.
After one deep kiss, Mike said, “I’m not discriminating against you. You have your own quirks, but that doesn’t take away my right to be jealous.”
Sheens laughed as he whispered in his best friend and lover’s ear, “Well, you’re special. The only time I don’t use a condom is with you. But lighten up, yesterday I was just…”
“What you just did yesterday is your business,” Mike was about to do something aggressive with his lower body, but instead he took one of the other’s hands and kissed each knuckle rather fondly and solemnly, “I just love to see that look when you can’t take it anymore.”
“Go to hell. When you’re ready then hurry up.” Sheens stroked his tattoos, in a tone that made it impossible to tell whether it was a curse or an invitation.
Mike grabbed his hand and pressed it back onto the couch, allowing himself to take the initiative. “That’s where I came from and I’m not going back for a while,” he admired his blonde friend’s slightly trembling waist and stomach, “You’re in heaven here.”
The first test was very successful. It took an hour and a half, almost the full effective sleep cycle.
Dill felt like he almost died at one point. He adjusted his expression and it took him several minutes to remember who he really was and what he was doing.
The pleasure of sex hadn’t yet completely subsided, the exhaustion and tingling sensation after the pleasure filled his body, even in addition to the simple sensual pleasure, he felt like he was having a real dangerous and sweet relationship with someone.
When resting he was more aware of what it was. In fact, it was similar to watching a small movie and fantasizing about a scene for self comfort, only this was a more intelligent way.
Emond and the others got together to discuss the effects of the test, while Dill was still lost in another life. The excitement and thrill were real, but the plot and the partner were false. In fact, in retrospect, there were quite a few visual blind spots and God’s perspective in this short life, and there was even a movie-like montage switching… most likely to serve as padding or something.
Dill didn’t dare to look at the machine, worried that he would think too much and feel sick. It was the machine that brought him pleasure, not the handsome and seductive Mike. And of course, he wasn’t Sheens himself.
Later he learned that the gas at the beginning was a hypnotic gas. It didn’t make you sleep, but numbed your mind and made your thoughts easier to manipulate. From the pre-programmed story to the details of the picture, to the intimacy process and waking up at the end of the story; all these were the machine’s functions in one place.
The next day they began the next test. This was before Emond told Dill to stay up, but not all night, because this test may take about three hours, and being a little sleepy, he would be more likely to be stable and controlled.
Ryder was prone to impulsivity when he drank too much, and he could never change that. Of course, he strictly adhered to the rules of never drinking and driving, but also because of this, once he had the opportunity to drink casually, he always forgot moderation.
The tragedy was that he had a very small amount of alcohol. A little more than two drinks would make him feel like a god, the world’s most omnipotent superboss, and then it was easy for him to do something irreparable.
That day, he and Alan were drunk, Gaby gritted his teeth and ran to pick them up from the party. The two houses were separated by a garden, but neither of them could walk a step. Gaby asked her men to carry them, in the darkness of the night, like a group of gangsters going to bury the bodies.
When they were still on the porch, Gaby ordered in a cold voice, “Take off their coats and scarves. Oh, and take off this jacket, too. Take off my brother’s pants. Don’t look at me like that! Do it!”
After her personal assistants complied, Gaby personally turned off the house’s heating and air conditioning, opened the windows to let in the cold air, and even pulled the house’s electric switch. When she left, her mood became much better.
Ryder suddenly felt very cold, like being shoved into the morgue. He tried to stand up, but remotely tripped over something and heard a grumbling and complaining voice.
Ryder began to cuss with the voice, from the issue of human dignity to the state of social welfare and whatnot, his voice getting louder and louder while the other voice got softer and softer, before finally whimpering. Ryder settled down and realized he was cursing a beautiful brown-haired woman in a long red dress…
This can’t be Alan, oh no, Alan is blonde well, this person is a real beauty… Ryder came closer to her. She began to ramble again, and then hooked her arms around Ryder’s neck.
Ryder picked the brunette beauty up and tried to go find a place with a bed, but he felt the house was spinning and really couldn’t find one, so he finally threw her on what seemed to be a softer couch or carpet… He couldn’t even tell the couch from the carpet now.
The two were much warmer as they embraced, neither of them realizing why it was so cold today. Ryder lifted the beauty’s skirt, and the beauty moved to pull his pants chain, and now Ryder was caught up in the excitement of ‘I can’t believe I hooked up with such a beauty at a party’ and completely forgot about it.
Until he touched something hard, and sobered up considerably. No… this was Alan!
Ryder’s waist was caught by the other side, otherwise he might have jumped in shock. He remembered that recently Alan just dyed his hair chocolate brown. Today, for the first half of the party he wore men’s formal wear, the second half of the party he wanted to transform like Cinderella, so he went to change into a dress giving him a female star aura… Ryder rubbed his eyes hard to make sure that the one he was pressing down now… was Alan.
Ryder thought back to when he did the silly thing of kidnapping, it was also because he had drunk too much. And Alan and Gaby, they were siblings with special characteristics: Alan would get down and sleep for a while when he hadn’t drank much, but instead of sobering up after being very drunk, he would become particularly whiny and chatty; and Gaby could drink very well, she could still stand firmly after drinking a bottle of vodka, but would become particularly cruel when drunk…
Alan suddenly grabbed Ryder’s tie, tugging him to lean down.
“My sister is a sociopath! She beat me up! She actually hit me in front of my high school classmates… ooooooooooooooooo…” Alan cried like he was really particularly sad and threw his arms around Ryder’s neck, “I just said something about her EX!”
“That was probably wrong… of you,” Ryder actually didn’t hear anything and just replied confused.
Alan hugged him completely and rubbed his head on the hollow of his shoulder, his mouth going from his sister’s violent complaints to the irresponsibility of his partner company, to the family cat’s picky eating and which brand surprisingly never goes on sale… At the same time, their two lower bodies were grinding together, leaving Ryder in a bit of a trance, as if his senses were separated and confused as to which side had the status quo.
But he was kind of glad that Alan was now well behaved and obedient, like a sweetheart instead of a pervert, and despite all his troubles sounding stupid, Ryder, by a curious coincidence, started to comfort him.
Ryder kissed the corner of his forehead, then his cheek, his lips… What’s the matter, it’s easy! Alan is just a hairy boy, although a little weird, but he might… like to be treated like this? Ryder’s heart was suddenly ignited with an inexplicable confidence, he didn’t even realize that the effects of alcohol hadn’t faded yet.
Alan seemed to get even more excited at being kissed, so he responded and demanded fiercely, that eventually Ryder could no longer think, groping and penetrating every warmer place possible in the slightly chilly air.
When he woke up, Ryder had a splitting headache and weakness in his limbs. He was lying in a wide berth on the bed, unable to move his right arm because of something pressing against it. With a tilt of his head, he saw the back of a long blonde brown haired figure with hair strewn across his arm and pillow. That was when he remembered what had happened last night.
Alan had woken up. He, too, apparently suffering from a hangover, groaned and rolled over, staring at Ryder for a long time with a confused look on his face.
“Did I drink too much yesterday?” Alan asked. Ryder hummed, the marks on the other man’s chest and neck making him blush.
“Did I complain about anything, or say anything bad about anyone?”
“Don’t really remember… I was drunk too.”
“If I said something about Gaby not actually being good enough for her PhD EX, breaking up or blaming her for acting like a tyrant or something… you can’t tell her that, and if you do I’ll have you silenced and chopped up.” Alan stared at the ceiling.
Ryder nodded and braced himself slightly, unsure of what to say. He figured there had to be a summary or a suggestion for what had happened yesterday.
“I’m sorry,” that was when Alan said, “did I drink too much and… hurt you?”
“What?” Ryder almost laughed out loud, he remembered exactly what he had done yesterday, and the process had gotten a little out of hand… he was going to apologize to Alan and ask him if he was hurt.
So Ryder lifted the covers and sat up to get one of the bathrobes that had been tossed next to the bed. The room was freezing cold and it must have been an instinctive yearning for warmth that had led them to the bed yesterday. The moment he sat on the bed and reached for the robe, an eerie soreness and discomfort came from below, and alarm bells went off in Ryder’s head.
He wrapped the quilt around himself in horror and checked the state of that place. Then he saw the marks that made him want to jump in shame. He hid his hand under the covers to surreptitiously check his backside — it was fine if he didn’t touch it, and the stinging pain when he did made him feel… instantly hopeless.
Alan propped his head up with one hand on the pillow and giggled at his reaction.
“I’ve always wanted to fuck a man while wearing women’s clothing, and oh my God, I can’t believe I made it happen, I really should…” Just as he lifted the covers and stood up to walk to the bathroom, he too froze.
Ryder turned around to see that Alan was propped up against the wall with his hand with a confused look on his face. He slowly looked back at Ryder in disbelief. And Ryder’s eyes moved down to see that there were certain marks between Alan’s legs that had dried up and… there was still something coming out of somewhere that was running down the inside of his thighs.
Their four eyes met, with a silent and grim expression. Obviously, what happened last night was much more complicated than they had imagined.
It was Dill who was most desperate for tears.
When he regained consciousness, he vaguely heard the researchers say “high dose” or something, and he wondered if the dose of something that simulated drunkenness had been too high.
What was going on? In the interactive experience it was clear that he had a kidnapping scene with an interesting young master. Their relationship got so close that they rolled into bed, only to experience the moment of truth in the state of delirium…
When resting, Dill secretly thought, This is not like a high-end technology product used only for self-comfort (although straightforward, but in fact the essence is so), it is brought to a real world. If not for a little accident in the plot, Ryder almost fell in love with Alan, since he was so charming…
No, that’s not right, Dill’s hand holding the coke trembled. Not Ryder, there was no Ryder. That was just a role he had played unknowingly.
Although these were designed and pre-determined, somehow it was the same as a natural dream. Dill thought back to the whole dreaming thing, and he indeed often turned into another person in his dreams. Anything from a soldier in ancient England to a Hollywood superstar, and until he woke up he would just enjoy (or fear) that life, not realizing it was fake.
Alan was really quite handsome and shined in both men’s and women’s clothing. Dill froze and thought, Why can’t you have such an interesting encounter in real life?
In order to test the “acceptance when highly different from the real”, Dill’s next test was quite fantastic. This time he became a rich Asian man who fell in love with his classmate and used his position to abduct his sweetheart to a foreign country and live together secretly.
He felt slightly guilty because he never asked the other person what he thought. He was expecting a love affair that would come out of nowhere, a love affair that would knock people out of their minds, a love affair that would take them through a series of love-hate relationships. The kind of love that suddenly fell from the sky, smashed people out of their minds, and went through a series of love-hate relationships to truly love each other, but his lover never gave him that opportunity.
That person’s character was calm, gentle and courteous, he liked to play games and enjoyed uneventful days. The first time they kissed, they hadn’t yet made their attitudes clear, and the second kiss took place in another country, in a villa bedroom.
Things moved both quickly and slowly. There was no mutual suspicion and torment, no skyrocketing rivalry or crisis… it was all over the place, with not even a decent confession. They just spent time together naturally, playing games or talking about work, sometimes traveling together, sometimes conceiving some immediate plans together.
They unknowingly got to the point where when something actually happened, both were awkward and juvenile, and they even got up midway to look up tips on the Internet… incredibly stupid, but incredibly sweet.
After an early morning shower and a cup of coffee, looking at his lover who continued to sleep soundly in bed, he was surprised to find that what he had to go through the storm to get even in a fictional story, he now got it so easily.
In retrospect, the feeling of speaking a foreign language was fantastic. What was even more amazing was that after finishing the test Dill couldn’t remember at all what to say in that language. He could vaguely remember some short words, but only their pronunciation.
He was afraid to look at the machine at the end of each experiment. He would rather believe that he had a good experience with some imaginary lover, instead of having them with a machine under the effect of software and hypnotic apparatus.
The test was a success, proving that the user could blend perfectly into the interactive experience.
At tea time, Li proudly told Dill that he had designed this oriental background and had thought there might be omissions, but he never expected Emond to make it so perfectly acceptable to the user.
“That machine…” Dill asked hesitantly, “Whose idea was it? You guys are all scenario designers, programmers, and stylists or something, so who was it? Who made the robot?”
“Emond, of course, he’s a genius. We make things that make people happy.” Lee replied.
“What exactly should I be counting for what I’m going through? A dream he designed for me… or for a user?” Dill asked.
Li thought about it and shook his head: “No, technically it wasn’t a dream. It was just using some properties of the brain to give people a dream-like experience. Just like when playing a game, that robot is the game host, and can change different discs to let the user have different experiences. The sexual part of it is real, you know, dreams can provide sensations, but they don’t really let people loose. What you experience can also be used on others, those episodes, scenes, and tricks that the game program makes you experience, and they’re not from your spontaneous dreams.”
“For example, if you sell robots and software to your customers… can they go through those too?” Dill frowned.
“Yes, that’s it,” Li said as he took a sip of coffee, “We will also improve it, and it may be different from what you experience in the future. After customers buy the robot, they can pick the interaction background… according to their preferences, just like picking a favorite game after buying a game console. Incidentally, we picked on you to test the program for ‘this’ orientation, we actually have designs for straight men and women, but that’s a separate job.”
Dill nodded and continued to pick at the mashed potatoes on his plate. A bunch of images raced through his head; the seductive blonde killer, the rich guy with a fun personality, the bland but warming brunette kid with glasses… all of them seemed real.
He felt like he was being ripped into multiple, separate relationships with those wonderful people, as if they were somewhere on the planet right now, just not in sight.
Compared to those, his real life was nothing.
The next test was even weirder, and this time the procedures and scenarios were still constructed by Li Tong. The purpose of these things was to allow people to experience love in different times, places and styles, so just as small movies would have actors dressed up as all walks of life or even from ancient times, there are also programs that were very different from real life for users to experience.
It was rumored that in order to save trouble, Li Tong used his name switched around to name “TongLi Village” such an ancient oriental place name, supposedly because he had always been called Tong-Li by the people here. This was what Dill heard only after the test was over.
Once in the test, Dill simply didn’t realize that he was in the virtual environment.
“These two are too much. The burden is too much!” Physician Pollan and his colleagues said seriously. At this time Dill was eating in silence.
“The duration of somatic sensation in the program is very long, but the user actually experiences only a few hours. But the problem is that it’s taxing on the brain,” Pollan explained, “I know that our interaction scenarios don’t really put people through many years… we actually designed scene switching, camera shifting, perspective switching, etc. The service the robot brings to the user is based on the situational perspective and will change, even with details… but until the end, the user can’t feel it!”
Emond lowered his head, not knowing whether he was walking or thinking about what Pollan had said.
“We have to stop for a day, I want to do a complete examination on him. Have you tried having dreams that you can remember every day?” Pollan asked.
Arriet nodded: “Not so much every day. But I sometimes have those particularly clear dreams that I can remember, and the moment I hear the alarm clock go off I don’t know it’s a dream. If you continue to fall asleep, sometimes you can continue the plot.”
“And how do you feel?”
“That’s right,” Pollan said, “the brain moves when we rest, but we don’t remember them all. It’s like disk sorting. I read a saying before that if you can remember every dream or even a brief delusion on your lunch break, forcing it to be memorized and written down in a memory-enhancing fashion, would make you become increasingly dysfunctional after a while…”
“I’m fine.” Dill held up his hand.
“I know you want to earn this money in full, and I want to finish these tests. But we have to stop for a day and do a physical exam. All right?”
Dill thought about his state. There was no nervous breakdown, no confusion between reality and the program, and no signs of addiction… The only thing that might have changed was that he missed some of the people he had loved in the virtual world.
The physical examination and a simple psychological test proved that Dill was healthy, so Pollan agreed to his continued testing. The physician’s examination also included sensitive organs, and that was supposedly to see if the robot’s bionic construction was ergonomic… though Dill always wondered if Pollan really needed to check that long.
The procedure for the next test was supposedly led by Emond and refined and revised by others. Dill once again lay on the consultation table as Mark and the others debugged the robot as well as replaced the software.
“This program needs to be revised! It has to be changed!” Scenic designer Mark said with an unhappy face, “It’s too sloppy, a lot of things are not perfected!”
Arriet bristled, “I know, you’re hung up on those two names.”
“And you got at least one syllable changed!”
“That’s not me, it’s nothing like me. Emond was just too lazy to look up the dictionary of common names. Well, don’t talk about that, it’ll get to him.” The girl was now referring to Dill.
Devon couldn’t find his spell casting materials and spell books, which he feared had been destroyed by Durat. Dragging that heavy lump of iron he couldn’t take a step, and only Durat could help him move.
Now that Durat had left, he wouldn’t return for a while, as he had observed in the past. Devon looked at the shackles on his feet and recited a spell… because he couldn’t prepare a new spell, he could do very little. This solution he thought of at the beginning, but never had the opportunity to try.
It was a spell that temporarily changed his appearance. He transformed himself into the appearance of Alita. And his purpose wasn’t to deceive anyone, but to break free from the damn shackles.
It took him a lot of effort to pull his foot out of the shackles, and even now it was a petite, slender, girlish foot, it was still bloody from the hard pull. But at least he broke free.
Devon raised the candle and walked out along the passage, and found a small wooden box in a pile of broken furniture outside the cave. When he opened it, he was surprised to find his own robes, spell books and belongings inside.
Durat surprisingly didn’t throw away or destroy them. When he left with these, Devon felt more and more confused about what Durat was thinking. Did he plan to really return these to him one day?
However, Devon didn’t feel moved. He opened the scroll box, took out a scroll, cast the spell on it at the door of the stone cave, and then walked to the stone house above the valley floor and used another identical scroll in front of the door.
When the spell was finished, Devon returned to his original appearance, grimacing into the woods.
It was very difficult to find the direction in the forest, so it was a good thing that the siblings, Mark and Alita, have taught Devon some basic knowledge.
Devon now just wanted to get as far away from that small valley as possible. He walked the whole day, but couldn’t find a place to camp at night, the sounds of wild animals were heard from all directions deep in the forest, and the nocturnal predators would come to patrol their territory.
He didn’t walk very far, when Devon detected a beast’s movements. Green eyes stalked him in the deep, dark forest, ready to attack. Devon lit a light hoping to scare the beasts away, and at first it worked, but it wasn’t long before they surrounded him again, and in greater numbers.
Although Devon basically has no spells available, he still had scrolls. Just when he was looking down, he suddenly heard a sound similar to the flicking of a bowstring, and then his feet were pulled by something, and his whole body spun around… he stepped into a trap and was hoisted up by a coil of rope.
The beasts in the bushes at first seemed to be stunned, and after a moment of stillness, they found their prey in a predicament, so they came straight out to attack.
Devon used a scroll spell before the beasts appeared, but it was too late to cast a second one, only a wolf was knocked down by the spell, and the others immediately followed.
But the horrific scene didn’t play out; the beasts have also stepped into traps. Some were ground traps, some were rope snares. Devon looked at the scene dizzily, both surprised and fearful… even more fearful than facing the beasts. He knew who these traps would be set by.
Two wolves weren’t snared, but were a little panicked, and before they could decide whether to run or attack, they were killed by a single blow from a series of arrows fired deep into the woods.
Durat slowly walked out and looked at the group of beasts hanging upside down and Devon smiled.
This was his first attempt to escape. Devon failed. He was taken back deep into the stone house. Durat didn’t immediately put him back in shackles, but first used the spring water to carefully clean the wound on his ankle. Devon’s belongings were taken away again, and he figured that this time, Durat would either actually throw them away or at least put them somewhere else that was hard to find.
After cleaning and applying a little herbal medicine to the wound, Durat grabbed Devon by the front flap and lifted him up, turning him over and pressing him back onto the bed. Devon felt Durat rip off his pants once again, and he gritted his teeth and closed his eyes… This had happened many times, and frankly Durat wasn’t much rougher, but the horrible size of that organ sent shivers throughout his body.
“Say something, my dear.” Lately Durat has learned this word from somewhere, and he often called Devon by it.
Devon simply couldn’t say a word, and even if he could, he didn’t want to say it. His body swayed passively in response to the other man’s movements, and he felt Durat leaning down to kiss his ear delicately.
“The spells you put outside the stone house can’t affect me. Did you forget?,” Durat said, “But they scared me, so maybe they’re still useful.”
When it was over, he rolled Devon over and pecked the mage’s nose and forehead as lovingly as a human would.
“I’m not going to throw your spell books away, since they’re important to you, but then again, I don’t want you to find them. Devon, you can try a few more times, and you’ll get them back from me eventually anyway.”
After saying that, Durat kissed him on the lips again.
Pollan tapped his pen against the printout on his desk and said worriedly, “I don’t think he’s in the right state.”
“What’s not right? Didn’t you say he was healthy?” Mark said.
“I know he’s healthy… but I feel that something’s not right,” Pollan said, “Do you remember the last female tester? She was fine during the test and in good health, but gradually she became a bit repulsed by them. Especially after that virtual module with an episode similar to Mr. and Mrs. Smith, she said she felt uncomfortable inside.”
“I remember,” Arriet nodded, “She felt that feeling of ‘not being herself’ conflicted with her ‘real self’.”
“But Mr. Dill was really positive, and seemed especially happy.” Pollan lowered his voice slightly.
“Maybe it’s just that he’s more comfortable with it,” Li remembered that Dill often asked about the characteristics of the machine, “He’s not repulsed by it, but quite happy with it.”
“I just don’t think that’s normal in reverse.” Pollan muttered.
Emond listened to this without immediately commenting. He invented interesting machines, although he looked like a boring man.
“His testing frequency isn’t too intense,” after a while, Emond interrupted his colleagues’ discussion, “Mr. Dill, as a tester, is just testing one virtual module per day. If it were mass-produced and sold, I think people might use it more often than that.”
The others quieted down to think. It was true, all pleasurable acts brought on addictive symptoms, to one degree or another.
Dill was told that the week-long test was coming to an end and that his last virtual interaction experience would be even more peculiar, not only in terms of nationality and habits, but also in terms of species.
Dill didn’t care much about that now, he just wanted to have an interesting experience. In the virtual situation he was oblivious, but after waking up he was surprisingly somewhat reminiscent of those or romantic, or intense intimate experiences. He’d heard that people were more or less masochistic, so who knew.
At the same time, he was sure that he didn’t like the last world. Everyone was either evil or shallow, and could clearly talk well but had to go to extremes.
Maybe it was because their true selves are never them, that’s why they don’t understand. Dill explained this to himself.
But where were those people, where was all that despair and love… that was so clear and true?
Josta kissed the tip of his student’s ear. The prince of the lower order family in his arms was handsome and with obvious intentions, a very easy child to see through.
“Go to sleep, there is nothing important to do next. This room is safe.” What Josta did best was gentleness — and in Menzoberranzan, gentleness was so rare as to make one question its existence. Josta knew full well that in fact everyone had moments of weakness.
The prince of the Giza family always wanted to be aggressive in opening up contacts and seeking all kinds of allies, and Josta got him with very little effort.
Leaving the study, Josta walked through the silent corridors of the Academy. The occasional passing student would salute him, and he would bow his head in greeting to the high-ranking mages he encountered. He had been at the academy recently, as the family was fairly stable and did not require his services for the time being.
Chaffin was on the high steps outside the academy. As the father-in-waiting of the family, he was often tormented by the matriarch and the other priestesses, but he could stand tall and proud in front of the males for a good while.
“Josta,” the priest and head martial artist greeted him and lifted the mage’s chin, “Rose is on top, you’re really doing that. Keep me waiting so long for that student?”
“I’m not here,” Josta smiled brightly, if the surface creatures saw it, one they would have said it was like sunshine, but that word only exists in curses underground, “Hey Chaffin, let me give you a kiss.”
“What?” Chaffin was confused and hooked around the neck. As a good Drow warrior, he rarely allowed subordinates to approach at will, Josta being an exception. In fact, he quite liked this, the Chelna matriarch could not give him such a relaxed feeling.
Then Josta let him go, “Mn, you’re still more sensible. The Giza children are too passive.”
Chaffin giggled and put his arms around Josta again. “Mn, down to business,” he said afterwards, “after yesterday’s surface run, I paid attention to the route you mentioned, and a few of the tunnels next to it. I gave the priestess who accompanied me that gem, and she helped us scout a large area. But we didn’t find the slave.”
“Not even a body?” Josta asked.
“No. We found the bodies of some dark region creatures. None of them were too powerful. Also, we found daggers with shattered blades and broken shoulder armor that belonged to your brother. I’m guessing the slave took his gear, broke it, and then threw it down.”
Josta nodded, he had asked a certain warrior from House Giza to help keep an eye out for this before, and of course every commission had a benefit to return to them.
In the same direction, on the necessary path to the surface, the body of Gale was not found.
“What exactly did the slave take with him that you had to go to such lengths to find him?” Chaffin asked.
“The magic item. It’s important to me, but the slave probably can’t understand what it does. It’s too bad.” Josta said.
“Leave him alone, maybe he escaped to the surface and he’ll die a painful death in that horrible place.” Chaffin said contemptuously.
Josta nodded. The loss of magical items was just a casual remark he made, but once the words were out of his mouth, he actually felt like he had lost something.
What was it? Was it the half-blood slave itself? But then again, it didn’t seem to be.
Josta always had a vague feeling that Gale had indeed taken something with him. But he couldn’t for the life of him remember what it could be.
“Oh my God! What’s wrong? What’s wrong with you?” Physician Pollan tapped his fingers on Dill’s face and looked at him in horror. The others also stood back with puzzled faces.
Dill slowly opened his eyes and felt the light dazzle him to death. Two tear tracks hung on his cheeks and his vision blurred as more tears continued to pour out.
At that moment he couldn’t quite remember who he was… or even be aware of his own existence, his limbs and body seemed to disappear, turning into air or something, empty of vision but not thought.
It was like occasionally dreaming about other people. There is no self in the story, only the love and hate of the next person. He couldn’t tell who he was, a dark-skinned elven mage, or a slave walking into the silent tunnel? Was he a young student hungry for connections and power? Or a martial arts master who attracts women and men alike…
Something screamed in his head, trying to push these images out. It wasn’t what he wanted, Dill knew unequivocally it wasn’t what he wanted.
He couldn’t see the healer’s face now, but saw the sprites fading away. Yes, I’m not Josta or Gale, that’s false; my name is Devon and I’m a necromancer… but that’s not right either! I’m a shareholder in a multinational corporation…
“Dill? Dill-Donason!” The healer continued to try to call out to him as Arriet and Mark helped him up, hoping that the sitting position would bring him to consciousness quickly.
Several moments passed before Dill fully recovered.
“I’m okay.” He said a little sheepishly, looking at the serious expressions of the researchers.
Still, he was wheeled into the examination room for a complete medical examination. Outside the room, Emond sat here in silence, as always as if asleep, while Mark, Lee, and Arriet kept discussing Dill’s state.
“Did you just see the way he looked just now? It was really scary, the pupils were dilated.” Arlette said.
“No abnormalities from the monitoring equipment, what’s wrong with him, is he hiding his medical history?” Lee said.
Mark stared at the consultation room door, “Maybe Pollan is right, he’s really not okay. The two previous testers didn’t appear to be like this.”
“But neither of those two previous ones finished as well as he did.” Lee added.
When he was escorted out, Dill looked much better and seemed to be fully back to his usual demeanor. Pollan looked grim, but couldn’t put his finger on it. According to the examination, there was nothing physically wrong with Dill, and even the psychological tests showed him to be completely normal.
Emond suddenly raised his head, well enough to show his eyes, and called out to Dill, who was ready to go to rest, “Which one do you like?”
“What?” Dill asked.
“In terms of your own preferences, which interactive experience do you prefer?”
Dill thought about it, shook his head and said, “I don’t know. If you’re asking about the level of heat… pleasure or whatever, I think it’s all good.”
Emond nodded and stopped talking. Dill added silently in his mind as he walked slowly through the building: If it refers to life, either one is better than my own.
There was supposedly another test, but the company wasn’t going to do it. They wanted to make adjustments to the machine and the virtual scenario.
Dill shook hands with each of those five people and was given some souvenirs. After that he would have a lot more money in his account, enough to start a lifestyle change.
At the parting, Dr. Pollan told Dill to come back to him for any physical or mental discomfort, and that he would help as much as possible and for free. He gave Dill a personal business card, which Dill tucked into his jacket, but couldn’t find when he got home.
Ever since then, every morning when Dill woke up, he felt like he’d disappeared. His own sense of existence completely disappeared. It could be anyone lying in his bed staring at the ceiling at that moment, but it wouldn’t be himself.
Even if he tried to remember the episode of an experience, he still could not distinguish who he was. He couldn’t remember whether he was a blond killer or a blond cowboy, or whether he was a multinational shareholder or a small employee with glasses. Sometimes he would be chased by strong demonic statues in his nightmares, and also sometimes he would wear flowing clothes and an orientalist promise for life. When he woke up suddenly in the night and looked around the dark room, he would mistakenly think that he was in the silent, harsh dark region; sometimes he felt lost and wondered what he had lost.
He returned to the bar where he often hung out, but couldn’t get excited about flirting with anyone. He paid off his rent, even changed to a better house, and gradually paid off the money he owed… and continued to live a casual and uninspiring life.
One evening in early winter, he sat under a streetlight smoking a cigarette, thinking he might look a little like the streetwalker named Mike… The thought made him laugh, knowing he wasn’t that noticeable.
Suddenly, a passerby stopped and called out his name. The man jabbered on for a long time before Dill recognized him as the physician named Pollan. Pollan tugged Dill up and together they walked into the warm cafe.
“How’s it going?” Pollan took the liberty of ordering Dill a drink, and pulled the cigarette out of his mouth and extinguished it.
“Fine, just about the same.” Dill replied lazily.
“You know, we’ve since improved that stuff and it might be available recently… Well, even though we say it’s available, you won’t actually see it in department stores. It’s only available for consumption by a few people for now.” Pollan began to talk about himself, without regard to confidentiality.
Dill listened, nodding along from time to time, in fact most of the topics about business and technology he did not remember.
“Dill, are you sure you’re okay? I mean, after you left.” Pollan asked.
“After that, Emond pointed out the fatal design error in the robot and the software… We quickly changed it, and actually the revised version is rather more concise,” Pollan said, “Those time spans, perspective shifts, the experiences of different characters… movie montages and whatnot are rich, but it messes with one’s head. Emond says it’s different from watching a movie, where our minds are always aware that we’re outsiders no matter who we’re following… Dill?Are you listening?”
Dill obviously wasn’t listening. He leaned back on the back of the sofa seat and looked out the floor-to-ceiling glass window at the people coming and going. “So… what happened to Ellens?” He asked.
“I think Devon did that to himself.”
“Dill… are you asking me about something in the virtual interactive experience?”
Actually Dill also wanted to ask about Gale’s… that hybrid slave. It was clear that nothing had happened between him and that seemingly gentle master, so why did he leave such a deep impression. Dill had heard before that the two non-realistic background modules were designed by Emond, and he still remembered the name ‘Emond’. The man’s fun could not be very comforting.
He wanted to know if there was more to come for these people, while at the same time wanting to stay inside the first few happier modules forever, even if they took place in another country.
“I’m sorry.” Pollan said suddenly.
“What?” Dill snapped back from his reverie.
“I’m sorry it doesn’t seem like you’re okay. I actually tried to find you, but my position doesn’t allow me to get the test subject’s personal contact information,” Actually, Pollan gave Dill his business card in the first place, but Dill never approached him, “I’m certified as a counselor, but not a very specialized psychiatrist. I can refer you to a friend of mine. Dill, you need help.”
“I don’t need it.” Dill picked up the drink that had gone cold and took a sip before realizing that the one Pollan had ordered for him was actually hot milk.
Watching him frown, Pollan smiled. “We can take our time talking about this. Would you like to go somewhere else for a drink?”
They went to a bar Dill had introduced them to, a nice setting, atmospheric enough but not so loud as to interfere with conversation. They clinked glasses and Dill asked, “What’s your full name?”
“Oh my God, I gave you my card!” Pollan made a deliberately reproachful face, “Roberto Pollan.”
“I could tell from the start.” Dill took a sip of wine.
“That you were overly enthusiastic about me.”
Pollan didn’t deny it, “Yes. Because you were selected by us on request, I knew from the start that you liked men too. Did I just act so obvious?”
Dill looked at him and suddenly had a novel idea… he was thinking day and night about those lovers who existed in different worlds, hardly able to lead a normal life. There was no lover in his normal life, only the occasional bed partner or guest. If this physician really wants something, then why not try it with him? At least he didn’t ask for sex in the first place, much less treat it as a trade.
Dill put down his glass and suddenly kissed Pollan. The dark-haired physician was taken aback and almost clinked his own glass. No one here was curious about their intimacy; there were more entwined men and women in the darker parts of the bar.
Dill thought, if you look closely, you’ll see that Pollan is different from my former partners. If he hadn’t gone to that company to be a tester, he wouldn’t have been creatures of the same world.
They pushed each other against the partition. Dill thought hazily, yes, he must have thought that for a long time, remembering the first time he saw him in that basement, his eyes darting over himself…
Dill unintentionally rubbed Pollan’s hair and realized that he wasn’t the only one who had changed over the years. Pollan also seemed not quite the same, he looked more sloppy when wearing a white coat, but when walking down the street he instead had an elite temperament. His slightly messy black hair also combed neatly, but was now messed up… Pollan looked younger, but also more attractive after tidying up.
The first thing he did was to get up and roll Dill over onto the partition while kissing the back of Dill’s neck. Dill didn’t care about the reverse order, as he felt good now.
Maybe it would be good to have a longer-term relationship with this guy, possibly get himself out of those daydreams.
He turned back to seek a kiss, raising his head slightly, and Pollan immediately responded by bowing his head.
—But is Bronn that tall?
Dill’s eyes suddenly opened. Pollan’s eyelashes were thick and long, and his dark hair was messy and seductive. But Dill remembered Pollan as a middle-aged man who looked to be in his forties, and although he did look like a gentleman, he was not so attractive. Pollan’s hair was slightly curly and he was very short, about the same height as the female researcher, even if he had to kiss it was his own time to lower his head…
The middle-aged physician’s eyes were black, but now they looked blue…Dill was so engrossed in the pleasures of his body that his thoughts were repeatedly interrupted.
He felt cold and dizzy when he felt the other man’s entry. His body did not produce any rejection, but his head suddenly hurt as if it had exploded.
His eyes were blurred before they cleared; first black and then a cacophony of white light. Dill could not hear what they were saying, but shook his head hard, closed his eyes and opened them again.
What he saw was darkness, and several lights were being slowly lit in sequence. He saw the walls, he saw his hands, he saw the consultation table under his body. Behind him, a machine like a multi-footed creature emitted a low-frequency current sound, and a tool that simulates and even carries temperature was still inside him, but gradually stopped moving as it was forcibly suspended.
Dill saw a few spots of red on the white sheets of the consultation table, and he reached up to touch his face. His hands were covered with blood from his nose. He climbed to his feet, oblivious even to when something had slipped out from behind him, and just knelt on the bed and stared blankly at his hands.
“Oh my God! How is this possible!” The door to the testing room had been opened and the men came running in, some to check the instruments, some to help Dill, who was taken out of the room and pushed onto another bed to be examined and asked questions.
“I told you it couldn’t go on!” The small, middle-aged man with curly black hair said, “His brain can’t take it anymore!”
“In principle, it says the user can’t wake up on his own… This should be his body’s self-protection mechanism.” The black researcher looked anxiously at Dill, who was lying flat on his back.
“Shouldn’t we contact a major hospital?” The Latina girl said.
The Asian lad took the phone and waited for a word from their leader. But Emond shook his head, “Let’s observe. Whether people recover on their own under such accidents is also something we should know.”
“Highly attuned to reality, and very different from reality, he can accept. But his mind couldn’t take it, and with it his body…” Emond came over and leaned down to stare at Dill, “Anyway, this really is the last test. Mr. Dill, do you recognize me?”
Dill was not completely unconscious, and his eyes were like saying yes and no. Emond shook his head, “It’s just a test a day. If it goes to market, our customers will likely use it more often than that…”
“The first two testers didn’t show this…”
“They didn’t finish until the end.”
“The last time John’s monitoring data showed…”
Dill suddenly felt very tired, gradually all those voices disappeared, and he fell into a real deep sleep.
When he woke up, his discomfort was much less and he was finally able to answer questions. At this point, the week-long test was completely over, and he got a souvenir and a lot more money in his account.
He returned to his rented place and found that he literally woke up each day feeling his body disappear. He was not worried about food and drink for the time being, but would often forget where he was.
Once he found himself standing in the woods in the countryside, unable to remember what he was doing, when one second before he had been running desperately. Another time he was asked by an old friend to go to a store and suddenly felt terrified in the too dim light. Even when he was sleeping with someone, he would call them strange names by mistake, and they would say they didn’t care, but he himself was stunned and lost interest in continuing.
Six months later, one early spring evening, he sat under a streetlight smoking a cigarette, unable to remember what he was doing in a trance. It seemed like he was waiting for someone, but he couldn’t remember who it was.
Dill didn’t even bother to look, it wasn’t going to be for him anyway. But then a familiar voice sounded, “Mr. Dill Donaldson?”
Dill looked up, not recognizing who it was. The other man was wearing a suit and coat, looking listless because of his slumped shoulders, and his hair was disheveled and covering his eyes.
Who is this man, Dill thought in confusion. Is his name Ryder? Devon? Chaffin? No… Pollan? Or was it Ellens? Saenlai?
Emond approached him and squatted down, “Do you still know me? My name is Emond, Mr. Dill Donaldson, and we met during one of the Inglaterra tests.”
Dill actually wanted to answer ‘I don’t remember much’, but instead nodded his head by accident.
Addis: There are extras still left, so be prepared for the final bit tomorrow. 😀
Thank you for the story.
A literal mind bender.
I had to go back and re-read when I started seeing the Names of prior characters! Literally I was shocked by the turn of events! I can honestly say that this was not something I was expecting! Really really shocking! The title really lived up to its name, Illusion! I’m so looking forward to the conclusion!