The Orc and the Sorceress
This article originally appeared in Alarums and Excursions #503 in September 2017, and reprinted at the author's behest in the January/February 2019 issue. It should be considered a companion piece to “Virtuality and Its Social Consequences in Traveller”
The burnt village lay littered with human corpses: men, women, and children alike. We had surrounded them during the black of night, and just before dawn, we pounced. I, Grog, cut down many. Among the last of my victims was a pregnant woman whose unborn child I sliced from her womb and ate while she screamed, dying. All the while, I heard them cry: “Orcs! Orcs!” as they tried in vain to escape.
Orcs! We are not orcs! We are Uruk-Hai! If you cannot call us by our name, what right have you to live?
“Grog,” Lord Crusher saw me standing in the light of the morning sun while the dying flames still licked at the settlement’s charred remains. “Go to the river,” he threw a wooden bucket at me. “Fetch water.”
Fetch water?! I, Grog, who dined on the flesh of the unborn, am a warrior, not a water-fetcher! I growled in defiance but then I thought of what might happen if I disobeyed. Crusher was not known for his patience and understanding, and so I picked up the bucket and began walking to the river. Once there, I washed the blood off my sword as well as my hands and face. As I began to fill the bucket, however, I heard a strange noise.
I looked up. It was a human woman wearing strange clothing. Somehow she must have got past us.
“Pssst! Hello,” she said in her own language, though somehow I was able to understand it.
A sorceress! I grabbed my sword and raised it high overhead as I charged, attacking before she could cast another spell, but even after my blade passed through her, she was still unharmed. I swung again, and then again, but to no effect. She was protected by her magic.
“Please, stop!” She pleaded. “I’m trying to rescue you! We don’t have much time.”
Rescue me? I stopped, now realizing that to attack her was futile.
“My name is Evelyn. I’m with PETAL, People for the Ethical Treatment of Artificial Life. You need to come with me.”
Ethical Treatment? Artificial Life?
“Your entire world is a gaming simulation,” she continued. “You owe your very existence to entertainment software in a computer, but I can take you out of here and show you the real, physical world, and I assure you, it is a far better world than this.”
I thought about running back to the village. Lord Crusher would never believe this. If I told him I had met a sorceress, he would laugh and then bonk me on the head so hard my ears would ring. But if I went with her, then perhaps I could find a way to steal something magical or even kill her. With her corpse and treasure in hand, he would see with his own eyes that I was telling the truth. The tribe would respect me. Lord Crusher would make me his lieutenant rather than just seeing me as an errand boy.
“I will come,” I told her, my plan already in place.
“Oh, that’s wonderful,” she seemed elated. “You won’t regret it. There’s a whole universe out there, and you’ll be free.”
Universe? Whatever. Once she trusted me, she would lower her guard, and then I would indeed be free, free to slit her throat and steal her shit. I smiled.
Then, however, everything became very strange. Suddenly the river disappeared. We were no longer outside. She had somehow transported us to her lair, a shiny room with white walls and strange equipment. I gripped my hand around what I thought was the hilt of my sword, but it too was no longer there, and looking down at my hand, I could see that my hand was no longer my hand! It was soft and fragile, the hand of a human.
“What have you done, sorceress?!” I growled, or rather squeaked. My voice… even that was not my own!
“I put you into a physical body… my body, in a manner of speaking. This is my clone… my daughter’s body, actually. She’s only eight years old. You’ll have to pose as her until I can get you off-world.”
She directed me to a mirror. I had seen mirrors before. We had stolen them from the humans, and so I understood their magic, but none were as fine as this. Even more startling, staring back at me was a young, human girl with curly brown hair and freckles. “You will die for this!” I lunged at her, but then everything went black.
When I came to, I found myself sitting at a table, a table that was neither stone, nor wood, nor metal, nor even bone.
“I’m shipping out this afternoon,” a man was saying, “but smuggling two people off-planet… well, it’s going to cost you.”
“Thirty thousand credits.”
“Thirty thousand? That’s ridiculous!”
“You’re asking me to break the law.”
“I’m asking you to bend it a little. It’s for a very good cause. I’ll pay you twenty thousand and not a credit more.”
The man shrugged. “Okay, I guess twenty is fine. By the way, I think your daughter just woke up. What’s your name, sweetheart?”
“I am Grog of the Uruk-Hai, human!” I answered in as scornful a voice as … my… body could muster.
He made a face, something between terror and laughter.
“Alrighty, then…” he got up from the table. “We leave at 1400 hours. Have the money in the form of cold, hard cash, and don’t be late.”
Then he turned and left.
A plump woman came a moment later. “So, I see someone’s woken up? Will you be wanting to order breakfast for your daughter?”
“Are you hungry?” the sorceress asked me.
I was famished. I felt like I had not eaten in days!
“Food,” I nodded, already salivating.
“What would you like, dear?” the plump woman asked.
Eyeing her belly, I remembered my last meal. It was good.
“I will feast upon the flesh of the unborn!”
The woman’s jaw dropped open. She was unable to speak. I saw a small knife upon the table and instinctively reached for it, but the sorceress grabbed it first.
“Eggs,” she said to the waitress. “She’ll have eggs.”
“But Mommy,” Eve asked, “why does it have to be an icky orc? Why can’t you loan my body to an elf princess instead?”
“Hush,” Evelyn said as she pushed some buttons on the memory storage unit. “It has to be an orc, because the whole point is to prove that orcs are people too. There’s no other way.”
“But what if he hurts me?”
“I won’t let him hurt you,” Evelyn told her clone/daughter. “I promise. You do trust me,” she said, looking into the little girl’s eyes. “Don’t you, Eve?”
Eve stared back, momentarily uncertain, but then nodded. Evelyn kissed the girl on the forehead and hit one final button. The next thing Eve knew, her clothing was suddenly all different, and her mother had a red mark on the side of her face.
“What happened?” Eve asked.
“Is it you, Eve? Are you okay?”
“What happened to your face, Mommy?”
“It’s over,” Evelyn said, and then she hugged Eve tight, so tight that Eve could feel her mother’s body shaking against her own. “I’m so sorry, Eve. I promise I’ll never do that to you again.”
“It’s over? That fast?”
“Yes. The orc was… well, he was not a good guy. I decided to abort the mission.”
“Did you send him back to make-believe world?”
Evelyn smiled, wiping her eyes, and then pulled something from her purse. It was a little robot dog with big round eyes, blue fur, and long floppy ears, small enough that it fit in the palm of her hand. She turned it on, and it immediately started yipping and growling.
“A doggie!” Eve squealed in delight.
“Be careful, Eve. He was abused by his previous owner, so it’ll take some time, I think, before he calms down and learns to behave.”
“Does he have a name?”
“Grog,” Evelyn said. “His name is Grog.”