I must admit, I’m starting to feel a little dirty asking each day for some sort of affirmation in exchange for the next bit of my latest story. I feel for Boudicca having to ask so sweetly each day for more: if it wasn’t for the fact that my blog stats right now look better than they have all year (I got a notification from wordpress.com telling me they are “booming,” so they must be good) I might be tempted to let this quietly slide away. Since it does look like quite a few of you are following this little plot, however, I will stop being so needy and trying to extort praise from you and propose a new deal: I’ll keep on posting excerpts so long as I get a few likes on each post and continue to see a healthy number of page views. It might not be every day, though – I do, after all, have my daily NaNoWriMo word count of 1,667 words to meet! Sound fair?
Here’s the next extract. Warning: this is where it starts to get complicated.
Even now, nothing all that remarkable exists in this story so far. Versions of this tale have been played out time and time again in the real world, and had this been the context for this particular iteration then Len might have done the hard but honourable thing and attempted to end the relationship as amicably as possible, or followed any of the other courses mentioned earlier. But this was the metaverse and in the metaverse other possibilities existed. Len felt angry. Why, he reasoned, should he have to be the bad guy in all of this when it was Swellen’s behaviour that had driven him to this point? He knew there would be tearful blog posts. He knew there would be sad, lonely pictures posted on her Flickr account. He knew there would be virtual hugs in the comments and quotes about “men” and maybe even discussion about him personally. It made him furious just to think about it.
“You’re making a huge great mountain out of a molehill,” Custard told him when he confided in her about it. “People break up every single day. That’s life. So what if she slags you off in her pissy little blog? If that’s what she needs to do to get over you then let her. So what if people call you a jerk in the comments? Do you seriously think they’ll still be thinking about it a week later? If I were in your place and I thought a few snappy little insults would help cheer her up I’d consider that a cheap price to pay for my freedom at twice the cost. I might even post a few myself under a different name just to get the ball rolling.”
That was when the idea started to form. A different name. A different account. He might be helpless to influence the situation as Len, but what if he were someone else? What if he became another person in Second Life and used that alternative account – that ‘alt’ – to help him out? In real life, a friendless person has no-one to call upon in difficult times, but in SL one can simply conjure up new people. He considered a number of different options at first. An early idea was to create someone who might say to Swellen the sorts of things he dared not say himself. Under this new guise – let’s call it ‘Ben’ – he would be free to launch whatever attack he wanted, drawing her vitriol in this direction and away from poor old Len. If Swellen was busy fighting battles like this she would have little time left over to vent publically about the end of her relationship.
Did Len – who had so recently found such moral angst over simply not speaking to someone – experience any guilt or shame at even contemplating such deception? He did not. In his mind, all of this subterfuge was only necessary anyway because of the way in which Swellen had behaved towards him. It was all perfectly logical. And, for all the emphasis in his earlier thinking on internal consistency of character, Len’s dismay over how a change in behaviour towards Custard might appear was mostly exactly that – a dismay over what others would think. He had no intention of anyone he knew finding out about any dual avatar activity he now engaged in, so the way he thought about this was entirely different. To put it simply, he didn’t worry about the ethics of this behaviour because he didn’t intend to be found out. Before you jump too harshly on Len for this, you might like to reflect on the degree to which the voice of your own personal moral critic is influenced by what you think others might make of your behaviour. Be honest now.
Even so, that first idea got discarded. It was mostly a problem of entrée. His original thought was to have Len introduce Ben as a friend, but since Ben would be just a day or two old (as a new account) there would have to be inconvenient additional detail to work out. It would have to be either an old RL friend who was new to SL – but that meant that he would have to fake a degree of ‘newbness’ about his behaviour – or an old SL friend who was claiming to be in a new account – and who just happened to have outed himself to Len within a couple of days of its creation. Hmm. It all had the potential for looking rather suspicious.
He considered an alternative plan. This time, Ben was a complete stranger who just happened to be at an event Swellen was attending and who took some kind of a pop at her over something she said or something she wore in the hope that this would trigger a full-scale nuclear exchange. But the problem with this idea was it could all end up backfiring on Len if he was seen as being unsupportive in the fight. Ben Friend’s attack could have come out of a defence of his old mate Len, but Ben Stranger would have no knowledge of or affiliation with him, so the fight would have to be about something entirely unconnected. It was one thing for Len to cite internal conflict when the opposition was a friendship that predated his relationship with Swellen, but she would likely consider it quite something else for him to not try to take a bullet for her when the enemy was a complete stranger (and a newbie at that) who appeared to be spoiling for any sort of fight he could get. No. He needed something neater. He needed something tidier. He needed something more careful and controllable.
What he needed, he realised, was for something at the opposite end completely of the scale he was considering: a man who would be nice to her. What he needed was a man who she might fall in love with. If Swellen fell in love with Ben then she might leave Len without him even having to lift a finger. Yes. That was what he needed. He needed to create someone through whom he could have an affair with his wife. This, he decided, was the perfect idea.