“Is love a tender thing? It is too rough, too rude, too boisterous; and it pricks like thorn.” - Romeo and Juliet
“What is love? What boundaries does love know? To what lengths will one go, how far will one travel... across the Metaverse... to follow their heart?”
Yech! My stomach turned as I read the words floating above the head of the short, orange-skinned creature standing by the glistening metal gate. Its questions appeared, one after the other, and then disappeared from the screen in front of me before I could type a reply. My fingers hovered over the keyboard for several seconds as I hesitated, mulling over my next move. Silly Tweetus. What did it know? Did it consider itself a Quorro for the evening, hounding me with unwanted philosophy?
“Hello, Roberto!” The Tweetus’ smile grew even wider; it had surely recognized that a Facer like me didn’t belong in this part of the Metaverse—the online universe I was now logged into. It bounced up and down on the balls of its webbed feet, positively beaming. I laughed out loud. It must’ve been so proud of itself, knowing what it knew, just eating up that gossip. An insatiable appetite.
As I moved my skinny, moppy-haired digital persona towards the entrance to the mansion estate, another gremlin-like Tweetus, this one purple-skinned, burst out from a nearby rosebush, landing right beside its Network brethren. I read the chat bubble that exploded above its head—‘Retweet!!!’—and cringed. The string of questions repeated, flashing before my eyes like they had just moments before. The purple Tweetus gave me a mischievous, toothy grin. It held out a rose that it must’ve plucked from the bush—its scrawny arm was peppered with thorns. They knew. I don’t know how, but they knew...
“You have read that right, fool. I challenge you to a duel! Stand down immediately and Deactivate, or fight me and be Deleted.”
The tall, hulking figure in front of me peeled off his golden mask, revealing terrifying black orbs that seemed to pulsate in the middle of his milky-white face. My heart pounded in my chest. I froze in place, cowering in his massive shadow, my ivory white tuxedo vest now a subtle shade of grey. He loosened the tie from his finely pressed silver suit and took another step closer—ready to pounce, to Delete me from existence.
“Back off, buddy! We don’t want no trouble, seriously!”
The imposing figure spun around, and I shifted my viewing angle to peer around him. Mercy?! The sight of my best Friend, with her blazing-pink ponytail, fierce emerald eyes, and silken dress that shone yellow like the sun, gave me a momentary sense of relief. We were trapped in the dark, arena-like courtyard of the mansion, and I was thrilled that I no longer had to take this Profile on alone.
“...two of you, now?” The words of outrage flashed across the screen as digital fumes spewed from the daunting figure’s slicked back hair. “What new kind of blasphemy is this? I am Percival, Premium member of the Linked Ones, and I order you to stand down. You do not belong here, Facer scum.” Those last two words appeared in large, animated letters that dripped with dark-brown sludge, which seemed to run off of the screen onto the keyboard before me. My hands curled into fists as I bit my tongue.
“Ya think you’re better than us?” Mercy got out before I could respond. She had circled around the man and now stood in front of me in a protective stance. “With your slick suits and ‘I-am-greater-than-thou’ attitude, d’ya really think you’re better than us??” Mercy was pissed. I couldn’t see her face, but I could tell, she was pissed.
“Look at you,” Percival replied, his words appearing much bigger and more intimidating than before. “Look at both of you. Facers. Denizens of the Social Web. Just being in the same Metaspace as you, I can feel my reputation leveling-down.” The man seemed to get taller as he spoke, his shadow growing longer in the pale, flickering light of the courtyard. “You do not belong here. But this you already know. Why defame my pristine Network with your presence?” He looked past my Profile and it felt like he was burning a hole through the screen, right into my soul. “Why even attempt to romance her?” His orb-like eyes squinted, “Accept it, you hopeless fool: the girl is mine.”
I snapped. Leave her out of this, dammnit! Fuelled with rage, I circled around Mercy and lunged towards the giant Linked One. My hands flew over the controls, working faster than my mind could, acting only on the pure hatred I felt at that exact moment towards Percival and his blasted Network. I held back my arm and balled my hand into a fist, my heart beating rapidly in my chest, trying to time the move just right.
“SUPER POKE!” I shouted into the mic as I thrust an extended finger towards him. The word ‘Blocked!’ flashed in a spray of sparks, and a moment later my jaw was smashing into the marble tiles of the courtyard, my screen becoming a blur.
Just as I regained control of the camera, I saw Mercy stepping over my body, a Deletion Staff materializing in her outstretched hand. A similar-looking staff shot out from Percival’s hand, too. I watched each of them shift into a combat stance.
“I’ve got Admin privileges, too, buddy. Ya want a fight? Ya got it.”
Do the Webmasters hate me, or what? I repeated this question inside my head over and over earlier that evening as I scanned the majestic mansion ballroom before me. The half-filled wine glass shook in my trembling hand as I stood at the room’s entrance, examining each pixel of the faces in the crowd. It was a masquerade, a massive Networking Event that the Linked Ones held here once a year, a venue for both reinforcing their existing Connections and forming brand new ones, too. And Profiles from other Networks—a Facer like me, for one—were most definitely not allowed.
It was a hive of activity, and the growing buzz felt intoxicating. Women in long, flowing dresses of every color imaginable—from peacock blue to glowing ginger—glided across the room from Profile to Profile, exchanging pleasantries, trading contact info, and then moving along to the next. The men did the same. Some were dressed in shining golden tuxedos; others wore long flowing robes, like Indian Maharajas. All in attendance wore elaborate, ornate masks, forcing each one of them to build Connections through conversations, rather than looks. Hundreds of chat bubbles filled the air above their heads—greetings, compliments, overtures—obscuring the massive diamond chandelier that hung from the ceiling.
I leaned in closer to the screen, studying the faces behind the masks, the hair, the way each of them moved. Where could she be? My heart pined for Rosie—a beautiful blossom of a girl, with short, cascading hair, red like the delicate petals of the flower she’s named after—but I couldn’t find her. Sweat dripped down the brow of my forehead and into my straining eyes. I was risking my name—no, worse, my Account—sneaking in here tonight, for love. But what is love, if one can’t even find it?
“Any luck, Roberto?” The text shot towards me, ahead of Mercy as she skipped closer, delighted that we had so far crashed the event unnoticed. In addition to her yellow dress, she wore a tan-colored mask, which included two long, twisting horns, like those on a gazelle. No luck yet, Mercy. I keyed in a frown in response, before quickly downing the glass of wine, almost as an exclamation point on my disappointment.
She grabbed me by the shoulders and shook me, looking me right in the eyes. “Lighten up, buddy!” The words popped up at the bottom of my screen—a Private Message. “Don’t ya realize where we are? Aren’t ya aware of what we’ve done? No Facer has ever chatted at a Linked Ones Networking Event. We’ll be stars back at our Network, shining brightly in the Newsfeeds of our Friends. The Tweetus will be gossiping about this throughout the entire Metaverse!” She plucked a wine glass from a passing server and drank it in one gulp. The Linked Ones networking nearby gave her a dirty look, before returning to their schmoozing. “We’ve only just logged in. Let’s nab ourselves a screenshot or two while we’re here. Relax, bud! Try to enjoy yourself...”
Just as I was about to reach for another glass of wine, I heard a loud ‘Check!’ Startled, I knocked the glass to the floor, shattering it. What the heck? A thin, wispy figure appeared out of a cloud of black smoke, right before my eyes. It wore a skin-tight yellow bodysuit and large black goggles that flashed bright green as it processed its surroundings. The figure spun like a top before I heard another deafening ‘Check!’ and it disappeared into another smoky-black cloud. It was a Leaper, no doubt about it.
“Looks like we’re not the only ones crashing this party!” The message from Mercy scrolled across the bottom of my screen. Leapers began to appear and disappear throughout the ballroom, staying in sight only long enough to Check-in to the venue before disappearing to another part of the Metaverse. The room was quickly filling with smoke. Signs of distress from the Linked Ones spread through the crowd.
“Enough!” A massive text bubble filled the center of the room, enveloping my entire view and causing everyone to freeze on the spot. The smoke slowly dissipated in the silence. No more Leapers dared to Check-in again. I adjusted my camera angle to get a better look at the speaker. Drifting down the grand staircase at the opposite end of the ballroom was a towering man wearing a purple robe that shined in the light of the chandelier. It appeared to be made of jewels. This man didn’t wear a mask at all, but rather a shimmering golden crown. “Enough of that nonsense,” he went on rather jovially, spreading his arms wide before the crowd of fellow Linked Ones in front of him. “Please continue, my Colleagues, continue. Meet! Connect! Recommend!”
As the stately looking man descended into the room, the crowd buzzed once again. A few steps behind him was another tall, impeccably-dressed man—this one wearing a golden mask—walking arm-in-arm with a Profile that I hadn’t yet seen. My heart beat a little faster: it was a girl, wearing a swirling white dress, shining like a pearl. The beauty of her dress was only matched by that of the long, golden curls that fell over her shoulders. Behind her simple, lavender mask, I made out the most beautiful brown eyes that I had ever seen.
As the couple reached the bottom of the staircase, I found myself drawn towards them, towards her. I pushed my way through the networking crowd, weaving in and out, dodging trays of food and stepping around the trains of trailing dresses. Finally, I was close enough to read what the beautiful wonder was saying.
“Precocious Percival, I respectfully decline.” The words formed above her head in an elegant, handwritten font. “For I am too young, too young for a life-long Connection with someone of your stature, too young for the pangs that follow the path of love. Your Profile speaks wonders, but my heart remains silent.”
The man seethed behind his intricate golden mask. “Nonsense, my dear June, cease your charade. For we both know that for your Network to grow, you must build a strong Connection with a man such as myself!”
“But,” she replied with emphatic text, “I refuse to Connect for that very purpose, do you not understand? Do you not see—no, feel—that my heart desires not?”
“Dear June,” the man persisted, “would it really be so undesirable, so unfathomable, to Connect with a man with such success and accolades as myself? The sheer number of my Recommendations... Please! Do not ridicule me so...”
“Leave the girl alone, will you!” My words flashed across the screen before I realized what I’d done.
“And who in the Metaverse are you?” Percival asked in a manner that could only have been laced with snideness. My mind raced. Think! I’m... I’m...
“...I’m a messenger, of course,” I bowed politely as I took the girl—June’s—hand and brushed it with my lips. “And I must regretfully interrupt your unfruitful discussion thread to deliver a Private Message to Lady June...a personal Private Message.” She looked at me coyly, furrowing her brow. It was if she was deciding whether to play along or not. Funny girl!
“A personal Private Message??” Percival seemed unconvinced.
“...yes, a personal Private Message from my lady’s Mentor, of course.”
“Ooooo... of course!” She finally spoke to me. My heart danced a jig in my chest—I felt like I was on top of the World Wide Web!
“Run away, you fool, leave us... can you not observe...” Percival looked flummoxed. He immediately reached for June’s hand, but she pulled it away.
“Hush, now, Sir, as no eyes may read such a message but my own,” the girl retorted. “Come now, fine boy,” she winked at the camera, “and let us find a suitable place for you to deliver that which you have brought for me...”
The utter darkness was disorienting. I adjusted the brightness and contrast levels of my screen, but that didn’t seem to help one bit. It wasn’t the screen, it was the room: it was a dungeon, deep within the murky depths of the Metaverse. It made me think of Hades—of hell. I had to repeatedly remind myself of why I had come here, on the day before the Linked Ones Networking Event, in order to prevent myself from hitting the Exit Link. Keep your eye on the prize, Roberto...
“Welcome, my son.” The sudden words of greeting made me jump in my seat, not because they had come as a surprise, but because they had come without words at all, just an echoing voice that filtered through my speaker system and into the recesses of my mind. I waited for a text bubble that never came. Okay, this is getting creepy...
“Welcome, my son,” the booming voice repeated. I tried to move in closer to see if I could pinpoint where it was coming from, but it was hopeless. I was in the bowels of the Web, the caves that belonged to the Network of Quorro, and this was my one chance. “Ask your question,” the voice continued, “ask and we shall answer.”
I took a deep breath and stared at the blackness in front of me. Am I just wasting my time? Why couldn’t I just be happy with the Profiles on my own Network?
“Why have you come here, my son?” The voiced asked, with more urgency this time, “Why have you journeyed here, deep within the Metaverse, troubled as you are in your heart, in your soul? Speak. Ask. The Quorro will answer.”
I pulled my hands away from the keyboard and folded them across my chest, letting my head fall back into my leather chair. Closing my eyes, I sat there in silence for a moment, just thinking, contemplating. Part of the reason seeing the Quorro always seemed to work: it gave you a chance to let go and simply think.
“Why have I come here?” I said out loud into the mic. “Well...” I shifted in my seat, “for love. To be honest, I’m looking for love.” I let out a deep breath and opened my eyes. There, I said it. Happy now? Still darkness. I sat in silence for a full minute. There was nothing. Finally, I blurted out, “Where can I find it??”
“Find it?” The disembodied voice responded without delay. “Find love? Listen carefully, my son: he who goes looking for love will forever be looking. He who lets it find him will discover a love that lasts.”
Lady June’s striking golden girls hovered slightly above her bare shoulders in the cool, shimmering twilight of the mansion balcony. We stood there side-by-side, leaning against the lavish, marble railing, gazing up at the glowing stars that filled every pixel of the night sky. Every few seconds, a brilliant shooting star would blaze across the screen, lighting up my room and causing her Profile to jump ever-so-slightly in surprise each time. It felt like we were looking through a window into the vast reaches of the Metaverse, with every star representing a node—Profiles past and present—looking down on us. I felt completely and utterly absorbed in the scene before me.
“So,” she broke the long silence, turning away from the sky and towards me. She slipped off her lavender mask and her brown eyes glistened in the moonlight. “I owe you a bundle of thanks, fine boy, for rescuing me from the empty words of that ghastly Profile. But I must ask: for what reason did you save me?” She blinked coyly, and when I didn’t immediately respond she pushed closer, so that her ruby-red lips filled the center of my screen, obscuring her inquiring words. “OUT WITH IT,” she shouted in strong capital letters, “right now, before I summon my Mentor for real.”
I tried to look shocked and appalled, but she wasn’t buying it. “Aha,” she continued, “for I of course know that she has not sent you, and that you are not Connected with her in any way, for no one knows a Mentor’s Network better than their own Mentee, of course.” She took a few steps back, “In fact, it would be impossible for you to be Connected to her. You are from another Network.” I expected a look of anger, but instead, I got a discreet smile, “You are a Facer, are you not?”
“No, I’m Roberto,” I typed without thinking, “...I mean yes, I’m a Facer, but I’m also Roberto. What does it matter what Network I belong to? I’m here now, with you, June.” She looked skeptical. I took a deep breath and continued typing. “I rescued you because of what I felt inside me when I first saw you across the ballroom.”
“...and that is?” She smiled a bit wider, clearly enjoying the drawn-out moment. “Fine boy, Roberto, my rescuer. Type! Tell me who you really are and what it is that you want from me... what you would risk your very Account here to find.” Her glossy curls cascaded over her forehead as she tilted it, searching my eyes, looking deep into my soul. “What are you looking for, Roberto? What are you longing for??”
“Ahh, my sweet June,” a smile broke across my face as I keyed in my response, “it’s here that you’re wrong. Though I did log in to this event looking for something, I didn’t find what I was searching for. But, if you must know, when I finally gave up, it ended up finding me, descending into the ballroom of my own heart.” I looked directly into the deep brown pools of her eyes, pausing to take in their beauty.
“And that would be...?” She craned her head sideways, trying to read me.
My hands flew across the keyboard, the words appearing on the screen even faster than the heart that beat furiously in my chest. “What found me, if not love? Your love.” For a moment, I worried that the sweat that drenched my own shirt was also soaking my Profile’s ivory vest, before continuing, “I have seen the sparkle in your eyes and the curves of your lips, June, and I know deep down inside that this,” I motioned towards her longingly, “this is why I have risked my Account in coming here tonight. For love.”
The girl stood there, smiling at me sweetly, before momentarily pulling away. “Fine boy, how you have managed to access this event, I will not ask, for you must already know the danger that you are in with your very presence...”
“June...” I reached out for her. My chest tightened. Was she upset?
“But wait,” her words literally seemed to be coming between us, “I am not finished, Roberto.” The tension inside me was overwhelming. “Let me tell you now what my untested heart sees, what makes my every bone tingle with apprehension...”
I burst into a fit of laughter as I leaned in towards the screen. I crossed my arms in front of me and my Profile did the same, “Ha! Now it’s my turn to say, ‘Type!’ Tell me now what your untested heart sees, and what makes every beautiful bone in your body tingle with apprehension.”
Suddenly she threw her head towards the night sky and began to twist and turn and dance around the glittering balcony with unbridled grace. The beautifully-written words sprung from her lips like a long-lost melody: “Roberto, oh Roberto! Where art thou Roberto? That name alone now rolls off of my tongue like honey from a golden comb.” It felt like my heart had just leaped into my throat as I was thrown backwards into my seat, my whole body tingling.
She continued her dance around the balcony, “Your sweet words will forever rescue me from the brutes of the Linked Ones, but tell me: will they rescue me from my own heart? For when I look at you,” she paused in her dance and locked eyes with me, “and when I read your words as I did just now, I feel that, although I know that I am but too young, and that the chasm between our Networks is too wide, my heart is truly about to receive its first test of love. For you, fine boy, my heart can tell, are different than the other Profiles, than any other Linked One whom I have ever met. You, Roberto, are my first and only serving of love.”
“Me... love... are you sure?” I stuttered, cursing myself for actually letting such a question get through before I was completely ready for the answer.
“Yes.” It was the most beautiful reply that I’d read all night.
My heart filled with happiness. I leaned in close to the screen, my hands shaking, “The truth is, June, I haven’t found one girl in the entire Metaverse, I haven’t ever laid my eyes on a Profile as beautiful and sweet as yours. Be mine, sweet June.” Her spinning brown eyes glazed over, and she leaned in towards me. A beating heart erupted in between us, growing until it filled the entire screen, before bursting into a thousand tiny hearts that floated away and into the darkness. A kiss.
“I will,” June replied, and my heart was finally complete.
“DELETE!!” Mercy screamed in wide, arching letters as she lunged towards silver-suited Percival, pure fury bursting from her eyes. The Linked One easily side-stepped the thrust from Mercy’s Deletion Staff; a split-second later he twisted his domineering frame and chopped down on top of it with his own staff, slamming its tip into the mansion courtyard’s marble floor. A jolt of Meta-energy crackled as it flowed between the two entwined staffs, bits of Profile Data from previously Deleted Accounts escaping and blowing away into the night air. From my position, still waylaid on the floor, Mercy’s yellow dress appeared to be torn down the back. She quickly regained her balance, bent down in a low crouch, and swung her staff out from under Percival’s in a smooth motion, holding it ready once again. Her pink ponytail hung over her shoulder.
“You insult our honor with your very existence here, Facer,” Percival spat as he twirled his Deletion Staff like a windmill, his charcoal eyes pulsating once again, attempting to intimidate her. “But you will never be a Connection, never again will you cross the Metaverse into the realm of this Network. Go back, fool, go back to the Social Web, and Share this: ‘I, a Facer, challenged Percival, a Linked One, and failed.’”
“Never!” Mercy charged forward and leaped into the air, her arms extending and ready to bring her weapon down onto her target. Before she landed the hit, however—my lungs twisted in my chest—Percival’s Deletion Staff came out of its spin and shot through the air like lightning, impaling my Friend in a flash, right through her stomach.
“Noooooooooo!” I banged my fists on the keyboard and stared at the screen in disbelief. I heard the crackle of Meta-energy once again, and Mercy’s body began to flicker and fragment, the bits and bytes of her Profile Data slowly falling into nothingness. A second later, she was gone.
I shifted my weight as I struggled to sit up on the marble floor of the courtyard, my anger at my best Friend’s Deletion slowly transforming into fear for my own Account. I crawled backwards on all fours as the Linked One stalked towards me like a panther, once again twirling his Deletion Staff. Every pixel on his face betrayed that he was on a high from having just removed all traces of my fellow Facer from the Metaverse. Seconds later I was swallowed by his shadow. I had to adjust my viewing angle to see his face looking down on me, grinning with victory. Just as he raised his staff to land the final blow and Delete any evidence of my Profile’s existence, a shrill voice cut through the courtyard in panicked, handwritten text...
“Percival! LEAVE HIM!” We both turned our heads towards the entrance in surprise. The camera focused in on the source: it was my love, June, and she stood there holding the train of her flowing white dress in her hands, her golden curls heaving with every labored breath. “Roberto! Do not fight him, please!!! It does not have to be this way. Percival, leave him I say! I do not care what Network either of you are from.”
“Stay out of this, girl,” Percival leered at her, “this doesn’t concern you.”
“But Percival, you do not understand,” she pleaded, “we are in love...”
His spinning Deletion Staff froze and he cocked his head, his greasy hair gleaming as he stood there in a moment of confusion. Then he sneered, “Love? Oh, please!” He turned away from me and began to stalk towards my sweet June, his booming words filling the air of the dimly lit mansion courtyard. “What is this thing called love? What boundaries does love know? To what lengths will one go, how far will one travel... across the Metaverse... to follow their heart? Hah!”
“To the very ends, Percival,” I managed to get out, in a large enough font for June to read. “To the very ends of the Metaverse. That’s how far.” As I typed those words, I knew that there would be only one way out of this. Somewhere inside me, I’d hoped that it would never have to come to this, and yet, deep down, I had known that this would be the end. A twisting, churning bout of conflict filled my heart as the reality of the Metaverse struck me. I’m a Facer. She’s a Linked One. Our love was always destined to destroy us—it’s typed into the very stars that watch over us.
Out of my pocket fell a Deactivation Vial, and a fire exploded in my chest. “June, please hear me,” I typed, the tears streaming down my face, “this is how far I’d go. I would rather be gone, than to be cast away, separated from you, my one true love. I will never, ever, forget you. Good-bye.” I drank the liquid, and my screen went dark.
“And if love finally does find me,” I asked the Quorro out loud, just before turning to leave the haunting cave, “what shall I say? What shall I do?”
The voice thundered in reply: “Love, my son, is not a tender thing. It is too rough, too rude, too boisterous, and it pricks like thorn.” I stood there in the darkness, confused. “If love should find you,” the Quorro continued, “drink this.” A Deactivation Vial materialized in my inventory. “But do not worry,” the voice gave its final piece of advice, “for wherever you go, love will surely follow you... across the Metaverse.”
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Copyright 2012, John Krissilas. All rights reserved.
John Krissilas is an advertising guru and tech-startup founder from Toronto. By day, he spends his time looking for the “big idea” to use for his next great ad campaign or tech-startup. By night, however, he's brainstorming the “big idea” to use in his next great story. John is currently working on a novel and publishes updates about his writing at www.JohnKrissilas.com.