Morgan Asher was frozen in time for a hundred years, trapped in a fantasy simulation by a vindictive sorceress. After finding his place in the future, Morgan returns to a different virtual realm, to confront the woman behind it all, Josie Johansen.
This was originally planned as an epilogue to "Prisoner of Time," and later written as a prologue to "The Guns of Mars." It never really fit with either book, and in the end it got cut from both. However, this is an interesting little snippet on its own, and I believe it deserves to see the light of day, so I post it here for you.
Think of it as a "deleted scene," like those you get on DVD's these days.
The barroom was packed, standing room only. Crowds of happy people hooped and hollered in varying stages of inebriation, as the clock ticked down toward midnight. It was New Year's Eve 1989. This was the most popular and exciting party of the decade, one that would end ten years in the past.
Morgan Asher forced his way through the drunken masses, trying to avoid having beer spilled on his polo shirt. Most people let him by with a snide remark or a laugh, though a few threats were thrown into the mix. It took him several minutes, but he eventually made it to the bar, and looking down the counter he saw a familiar figure awaiting him at a corner booth, nursing a glass of red wine.
A precarious crawl along the populated stools brought him to the open space in the corner, where the lonely lady sat at the small table. She was a reclusive figure, who refused to look up as Morgan sat down. Her soft complexion and fluffy strands of blond hair made her look to be in her twenties, but truthfully her mind had lived over sixteen decades.
"It took you long enough," Josie Johansen greeted him, staring at her cocktail glass.
"I've been busy, and the waiting list for this program is six months long," Morgan replied, taking the empty seat the lady had reserved for him.
Josie smiled faintly, seeming amused. "Did they truly make you, the infamous Morgan Asher, sit on a waiting list that long?"
"I used up all the favors I had with Simworld when I booted into Fantasan the last time," he said, recalling that fateful trip into a sword and sorcery simulation which had brought forth mixed results.
"Well, I'm glad you came at last," Josie mentioned, reaching under the table for an opened wine bottle and an extra crystal glass. "Please, share a drink with me."
Morgan put up his hand in refusal. "I promised someone a long time ago that I'd never drink virtual wine again."
"Really?" Josie said, sounding disappointed. "Who?"
"Rheena Liszt," Morgan said.
Josie nodded and refrained from filling the second glass, fully appreciative of Morgan's refusal. She respected his decision, sharing his desire to remain faithful to Rheena's wishes.
Rheena had been a friend to them both at different times and to differing degrees. Her death had left a great void in each of them, and it had once put them at odds, but it was all in the distant past now.
"Why'd you call for me?" Morgan asked, glancing over at a round clock on the back wall. The time was 11:49 PM.
"I don't know, really," Josie said, rubbing the rim of her glass. "I suppose I just wanted to clear the air a little before you left. While we have the time."
From her outward appearance, you'd never suspect that this pretty slip of a girl could be terribly hateful or dangerous, though in the past her fury had been seemingly unparalleled in all of man, and she'd proven herself capable of great evil because of it. It had all been justifiable in her own mind, of course. She didn't think of herself as a villain, and the deplorable things she'd performed were merely a means to an end.
Morgan could understand her motivation, but had borne the brunt of her treachery, and was still reluctant to forgive her. Still, a morbid curiosity propelled him to answer her beckon call at this turning point in his life.
The noise increased, drowning out whatever techno-pop single was playing on the nearby jukebox. The bar seemed like a less than ideal place to talk.
"You could have picked a better simulation," Morgan mentioned, irritated by the rancorous surroundings.
"What, you don't like the eighties?" Josie asked.
"No," Morgan said.
"Oh, come on. This is the height of the old republic. An era of freedom and innovation. The seeds of modern technology are still being sowed, and the Last Great War is decades away. This is the embodiment of the American Dream."
Morgan may have had a decent understanding of history, but his view of this era was less than idealistic. He saw it as just another step in the slow degradation of the original American Republic, a time period he hadn't sought to overly scrutinize, unlike the designers of the simulation.
"Any chance we can step outside?" Morgan asked loudly. "The noise is driving me up the wall."
Josie smiled and shook her head. "There's no time. I boot out at midnight."
"It's tradition. You see, in about six minutes, when that clock hits twelve and the ball comes down over Times Square, everything resets. The program goes from December 31, 1989 back to January 1, 1980. Some people stick around and relive the decade over and over again. Others who entered in mid-program stay to live the first few years they missed, but a great many cast off at midnight, saying farewell to this sim in search of fresh experiences."
"You've only been here for two years," Morgan mentioned. "Don't you want to stay for the rest of the decade?"
Josie smirked and ran a finger around the rim of her glass again. "What makes you think I haven't already? You don't think I spent the last hundred years entirely in Fantasan, do you?"
"I wouldn't know," Morgan said, feeling a familiar emotional sting, as she reminded him of all the time that had passed him by. In the Fantasan simulation, Josie was a masterful sorceress, and she'd crafted a spell which had turned Morgan to stone, putting his consciousness to sleep for over a century. Thus he had become a prisoner of time, stranded away from the past he knew, and forced to find a new life for himself in a strange future. It was both a blessing and a curse, though regrets had long since faded.
Another minute ticked by.
"If you really want to talk, we should probably meet somewhere else," Morgan said, glancing at the clock nearing twelve.
"No, this will be fine," Josie said, lifting her glass and downing the last of her wine.
"You dragged me all the way here, just for a ten minute hello?"
"Yeah," Josie said, sounding pleased with herself. "I'm sure there's a lot more we could talk about, but it's not my fault it took you so long to boot in."
"We could always talk after we boot out."
"Sorry, I don't do the 'real world' anymore," Josie said. "Besides, what would your wife say if she found you were romancing a hundred and sixty three year old sorceress?"
"Lorna knows exactly what I'm doing here, and romance is the furthest thing from my mind when it comes to you."
"Your loss," Josie said, leaning back with a strange glint in her eye.
The clock clicked on 11:59, and the whole room grew quiet. The chaotic revelers subdued their madness to await this moment that came only once every ten years. The reset of a time loop in the computer generated environment.
This was liable to be the last time they would ever see each other, and Morgan had more questions than he could count, all of which only Josie could answer.
"I couldn't do it, you know," Josie said abruptly, with forty-five seconds left.
"What?" Morgan asked.
"Simon. I couldn't kill him."
Such a simple statement only created more questions in Morgan. "What, you mean you didn't get the chance, or you couldn't bring yourself to do it?"
"Take your pick," Josie said. She flicked her finger and knocked over her empty wine glass.
With fifteen seconds left, Morgan asked, "Where will you go from here?"
"Does it matter?" Josie asked, as the entire room started to count down from ten. "I think I've said all that I needed."
"I haven't," Morgan said sternly.
"Time's up," Josie said as the crowd shouted one.
A bright flash blinded Morgan, and after rubbing his eyes he found himself sitting alone at the table. There was a lot more room in the bar all of a sudden, since most of the patrons had just booted out, back to their real-world bodies that would soon be revived from suspended animation.
The handful of remaining patrons began clapping wildly, thrilled by the change of the calendar.
For Morgan, this brief encounter with Josie was little more than salt on a healed wound. It didn't really hurt, but it was certainly annoying, what she'd just done. The woman was as mad as ever, though she certainly had her reasons. Everyone does.
Morgan didn't have any desire to sit around in this fabricated imitation of reality any longer. There was nothing left for him here. He had a real life waiting for him out there, and it was time he got on with it.
Morgan stepped out into a cold flurry. It was midnight, after all, and he was in the heart of Boston in January. He didn't waste time heading toward his next destination, as the casual clothing did little to block the blustery wind.
A few hundred yards down the block was a granite building. It stood out like a sore thumb, and was one of the only constructs in the program that wasn't historically accurate. This was an access kiosk, where virtual travelers could leave the program any time they wished, even if they still had time left on their account.
Morgan turned the knob on the front door and entered the large, vacant room. There was no furniture of any sort inside, no windows or other sources of natural light, yet it was adequately lit inside from glowing ceiling panels. The floor was clean and glossy, made of the same reddish stone as the rest of the building.
"Avatar, get me out of here," Morgan shouted into the open chamber. His voice echoed around him, and a second later a glowing figure materialized before him. The dark haired lady in cut blue jeans was the likeness of a long dead musician from the program's era.
"Welcome back, Morgan Asher. It's been thirty one minutes since your last kiosk visit. What can I do for you?" she asked emphatically, almost shouting with exuberance.
Hearing the high pitched rasp in her voice, Morgan couldn't imagine how this woman had ever been a singer. Yet another element of this era that didn't appeal to him. "Avatar, get me out of here."
"Please confirm: boot out," the avatar requested.
Morgan gave his confirmation, and without further torment from the excited avatar he was on his way back to the physical world, where he expected to remain the rest of his days.