Prompt: A man discovers all his memories and desires are not his own, merely the amalgamation of a video game’s code. He must now decided what to do with himself.
“And what should be my reward, were I to take up this task?” the knight asked. He wore red and gold, and was thus under the command of Lord Sprice. He was supposed to help the villagers regardless of reward, but they had their own sets of arcane rules. Rumors swirled of shadowy texts kept not in bookcases, but in the shadows of such cases.
Veckard didn’t put much stock in stories like that. The world was a dull place, at least for a peasant like him. His home couldn’t keep out the wind, his fences couldn’t keep out the wolves, and he could hope for no help better than a passing knight willing to listen to his plight.
“I can give you a block of my finest cheese,” Veckard said, unable to make it sound appetizing. “We… we age it in our cellar, spice it with….”
“Cheese?” the knight repeated. “Useless. I could trade it in for something better at the market.” He was muttering to himself, chin angled down in his bulky helmet as if discussing his plan with a pet frog squished against his chest. “Better than fighting that dragon. My level could never challenge such a beast.”
“Your level?” Veckard asked. What a strange phrase. Even hearing it felt strange, like something could dripping down his back. He rubbed his neck for a moment and thought he felt something, but the sensation was gone a moment later and replaced by a feeling of shame. His hand stung, as if he was a child who’d just gotten it slapped for reaching for dessert prematurely.
He wasn’t supposed to feel the back of his neck or question the word of a fine knight. He was supposed to be sad, pathetic, and miserable. It had been three decades of that, with a tiny interruption of being newly wed to his wife before they both realized the misery would return. She was inside crafting blankets for the coming harsh winter. It would be harsh because it always was. The right number of peasants would freeze to death, just enough to motivate Spring kindness from Lord Sprice.
“What do I need to do again?” the knight asked, practically barking. He wasn’t fond of the peasant overhearing either.
“My milk cow was stolen,” Veckard said, a tear welling up in his eye. Yes, that was a feeling he was allowed. He was allowed to care about the cow. In fact, at the moment, he missed the animal and its squishy wet nose more than he did the affection of his miserable wife. “Her name was Mootarte. Thieves came for her in the dead of night, dragged her over the hill there.” Veckard pointed. “Please. Bring her back to me and the cheese is yours! My whole life is yours!” He clapped his hands over his mouth. Not supposed to say that last part.
The knight stared at him for a moment, eyes climbing him like a ladder. Veckard cast his gaze down into the mud. The knight’s stare grew so harsh that he dropped to his knees and begged for help, as well as forgiveness for his outburst. Something bumped into his forehead. A ring. Veckard kissed it, earning the knight’s forgiveness and favor.
Hours passed, with Veckard standing right where he made the bargain. He wanted to pace, to seek comfort from his family inside, but something kept him rooted in the mud. The knight might not be able to find him if he didn’t stand right there. The cow couldn’t be returned if not to the exact place where criminal fingers touched her fur.
Mrrroooooooo! Came the bellowing moo of a terrified Mootarte. Veckard looked over the hill and saw his livelihood charging toward the farm. She wasn’t alone even though there were only four feet on the ground. One thief was latched to her side, hanging on by her ringing bell collar. The knight rode upon her back, bashing at the thief’s knuckles with his mace.
They were head straight for Veckard, but he couldn’t move. He grabbed at his knees, but they were glued into the mud. Something had pulled him down into the same supplicating pose where he’d kissed the knight’s ring.
“What’s wrong with me?” he said in a panic, slapping at his legs. The knight paid no attention; he finally dislodged the thief, sending him rolling down the hill, but he found he could not control Mootarte. He slapped the animal on the head several times. “Don’t hurt her!” Veckard yelled. That wasn’t part of the deal, but neither was what happened when the careening cow collided with her master.
Veckard was ripped from the mud and thrown against the fence, which splintered and fell under his weight. His head crumpled under him for a moment and he heard something crack. There was that cold sensation down his neck again, but it wasn’t a drop of mud or the rain that had just asserted itself. He grabbed at it before his recovering body could tell him not to.
He stood, taller than he ever had in his life, because there was no longer something telling him his back was weak and misshapen. In his hand sat a strange device. He’d never seen its like, not even in the tapestries that got paraded in the town square each year. It had a plastic shell and two blinking lights. There was a small pad of thin needles, still red with his blood.
Veckard’s mind emptied. He’d only been a peasant for a year, he realized. When the machine, made invisible to him by a neural illusion, cracked and separated, his philosophy, memories, and emotions went with it. He was holding his old life like a bird that had struck a window and broken its neck.
There was love for his wife, but it was in the device. Pride in his cheese… in the device. Respect for Lord Sprice… in the device. He looked at the knight and saw, for the first time, another similar machine sticking out of his neck. He got the good end of it, this game with human pieces. He was the adventurer, the one that mattered. Veckard was just the poor soul who lost his cow, who was paralyzed without it until the quest was complete by those deemed worthy of purpose.
“What are you doing over there?” the knight barked, trying to pull himself out from under Mootarte. “Here is your damn beast! Give me my reward! I’ll bash you back into place you…” Veckard rushed over and kicked him in the jaw, pulling blood from his lip. The knight’s cheeks filled with color and he bawled uncontrollably under the the cow’s hefty stomach.
Whoever had attached these devices, given the peasants false lives just so they could be adventure fodder, would surely notice one missing. Any knight that came to return a stolen cow would find a man no longer forced to kneel or accept his implanted smallness. There was but one solution. Veckard stroked Mootarte’s neck, calming the animal. He reached down and ripped the functioning device from the knight’s neck. He stopped his tears and slipped into unconsciousness.
Veckard guessed at the right place and pressed the needles over a vein in Mootarte’s muscular neck. The cow’s pupils widened. She rose to her hooves and bowed to her former owner. Now she was a brave knight, owned by Lord Sprice, and needed to return to him to report on the state of the countryside.
She trotted off like a horse, snagging the knight’s mace in her mouth before she left. Maybe the devices would disguise her as a knight to all programmed eyes or maybe they would notice that the new recruit was a bit strange when she dropped a pile of dung on the fine rugs of the castle, but Veckard would be long gone. The makers of this game would be distracted by the former knight and the knighted cow, while the peasant made something of himself.
He always remembered to turn around and to touch the back of his neck, feeling the scar. He was free, yet he still hoped brave Lady Mootarte could extricate herself from such games as well.
Author’s Note: This flash fiction story was written based on a prompt provided by Axleboost during a livestream. I hereby transfer all story rights to them, with the caveat that it remain posted on this blog. If you would like your own story, stop by twitch.tv/blainearcade during one of my streams and I’ll write it for you live!