The Team and Marriage Woes


Lance did not wake up in a dungeon. He did not wake up in chains. He did not sleep in a tiny cot in a tiny house under a roof that leaks when it rains. 

He was no longer a prisoner. He was no longer a clerk and a secret smuggler of various goods. He would not, could not, go back to living like a prisoner in the woods. 

Not after last night. Last night had involved a hot, soapy bath in a tub built of Italian marble, where he’d been hand-washed by no less than three gorgeous beauties who had then followed him to his suite and joined him on his massive, king-sized bed, where he’d proceeded to enjoy himself in ways he hadn’t since that horrible, terrifying day in the past that had led him into years of misery. 

He woke this beautiful, happy morning surrounded by pillowy heaven, tangled in fine cotton sheets and nude companions. He then proceeded to dine on a breakfast of freshly laid eggs and freshly baked bread and fresh-squeezed guava juice and found himself feeling, for the first time in all-too-long, like a man again. His spirit felt lighter, and his being felt more whole. 

Lance emerged into the street and found Governor Koopman already waiting outside the guesthouse with a pair of Dutch marines flanking him. 

Koopman smiled with a knowing expression. “Ah. You look refreshed. A man restored.”

Embarrassed, he smiled. “I feel that way.”

“A taste of the life you should be living, not the months and years those idiot pannenkoeken have stolen from you.”

Lance couldn’t help but smile wider. “I have missed the good life. I’m definitely ready to get back to it.”

“Excellent. Come. I will show you around town on our way to your first meeting, where I will introduce you to the team.” He put a hand on Lance’s shoulder and pulled him along. 

The guesthouse Lance had slept in was in the Prestige Quarter, four culdesacs shaped like a four-leafed clover lined with fabulously decadent houses. Each mansion was three stories tall, painted white, pale pink, green, blue, orange, or yellow, fully staffed and outfitted with every amenity. It was where Koopman’s chosen talent resided in extreme comfort, though they worked downtown. 

The first stop on the way to the office was the bazaar. 

“The retail heart of the island,” Koopman waved towards the plaza.

The rectangular space was walled by two-story buildings and floored with tan paving stones. Stepped pyramids topped with umbrellas held mounds of fruits and vegetables and other edibles. But more than the usual foodstuffs, there were other goods as well. 

Lance saw dozens of different brands of wine and beer and rum, stacks of cigars and pipes, bags of mushrooms and special herbs, and pistols and muskets and knives. While many items were daily necessities or useful tools, many were luxuries. He fingered dolls, knickknacks, trinkets, souvenirs, and the kinds of items he’d last seen in modern shopping malls. It was a haven of consumerism. 

He picked up a figurine of a toy soldier, puzzled. “You sell this kind of stuff?”

The governor seemed surprised. “Of course! Why wouldn’t we?”

“I used to work in a colony store. Most residents could only afford the bare necessities.” He replaced the toy next to dozens just like it on the stall table.

Koopman seemed proud and smug. “We have a lot more wealthy citizens than most colonies. We also sell to other colonies.” He rubbed his hands together. “Come, let me show you what else makes our lovely island a capitalist paradise.”

They walked about Philipsburg. Lance got a tour of a weapons factory. There was a shooting range where half-naked girls in coconut tops and palm sarongs offered various muskets, grenades, and even cannons for your trial and amusement. A well-stocked bar served libations for when your throat dried from blasting targets to pieces.

They passed by a casino just at the end of a nicer-looking pier. The building was as fancy as any he’d seen in the system, though much smaller than the gargantuan modern gambling edifices back home. It was stylish, with arched windows and doors, flowering vines on the walls, a red carpet at the double-glass door entrance, and white-and-orange guards waving in eager guests even at this early hour. 

Lance was instinctively drawn to the building. He’d been a frequent visitor to Vegas for many years.

Koopman gently steered him away. “Later, Lance, later. Trust me; you’ll love it. None of those annoying, loud slot machines with all the flashing lights. Just tables and dealers and real games. The place is nothing but class. I insisted on it. Which is fine because only the rich can afford to play here. And slots are for peasants.”

Lance noted the upscale pier. “Ah, you bring in people from other colonies to gamble?”

“Of course. Guards, governors, merchants.” He leaned over and lowered his voice. “The occasional real-world guest.”

“Really?” Lance was shocked. 

“They can’t gamble real money in here, of course. But they pay a hefty fee to secretly upload here and enjoy certain privileges unavailable in the real world.”

“Ah. I see.” He nodded and wondered just what kind of activities that meant. His imagination went a little wild and his heartbeat picked up a bit.

The pair and their guards strolled around the alcohol and drug district where multiple distilleries produced rum and beer. One warehouse had a floor covered with manure, out of which had sprung a carpet of hallucinogenic mushrooms. They peeked into a processing plant with piles of marijuana being turned into cigars and shredded leaves. 

Lance watched a young woman wearing only lingerie as she skillfully rolled a cigar up and down her flawless, bare thigh. Ground-up leaves had been packed around a thin wooden skewer, then the entire thing wrapped in whole leaves.

He laughed. “That’s the fattest joint I’ve ever seen.” 

“The skewer is removed, leaving a hole that helps it burn smooth. A single cigar can last hours and get an entire party high.”

“Unreal.” Lance had never been a big pothead, but he’d sampled the stuff a few times. It had been an interesting experience. 

“We have a field of the stuff growing on another island,” Koopman informed him. “It grows quite well here. Can’t tell you how surprised I was to find things like magic mushrooms and weed in the prison system, but they really did do a faithful job of recreating reality here. And I tell you, at least within the Dutch colonies, there are no restrictions on sale or consumption.”

He was still captivated by the young woman’s tan thighs and the thick, dark-green cigar. “Huh. I never came across this on Barbados.”

“We only export to a select clientele on other colonies. Prisoners would very rarely get the opportunity to sample such things. You didn’t even get access to alcohol, did you?”

“No,” he admitted. “Only ship crews ever got beer because water spoils after too long at sea. Even indentured prisoners, those of us with so-called employment, never enjoyed that kind of thing. It was always water, maybe juice, simple bread and meat dishes. The basics.”

His prison time, after he’d earned partial freedom within the system, had been better than it would have been inside a concrete bunker in the real world, the way prisons had been in the past. But it had been a life of relative poverty compared to the supreme luxury he’d enjoyed as a billionaire. He felt an urge to smoke one of those cannabis cigars and rejoin the ladies back in bed.

Koopman beckoned, and a worker in the weed plant ran over with a box of the special cigars. Each was the length and thickness of a tobacco cigar. The governor offered one to Lance. “As long as my people are making money, I don’t care what they get up to. Fuck your brains out with whoever you want as much as you want. Get sauced at breakfast. Smoke one of these every day at lunch.”

Lance half-laughed. “What? Really?”

“Yes! Think of it like your Wall Street glory days back in the late twentieth century. But without having to hide anything you’re doing. Go wild. Anything goes as long as you’re a profitable part of the team.”

Lance snorted. “Next, we’ll be doing lines of coke off stripper tits.”

“Absolutely. I don’t partake often, but some of the boys do.”

His eyes opened wide. “Wait, you have cocaine here too?”

An easy nod. Koopman replied with a matter-of-fact voice. “The Spanish have something of a monopoly on it. I get a regular shipment.”

“That’s…wow.” He shook his head in disbelief. He was discovering a whole new side to this digital world. Apparently, it was not entirely the prison it had been designed to be.

Koopman laughed. He swept his arms to the side, indicating the world around them. “This is the life. Paradise from the palm trees to the sex to the wine and, more than anything, the freedom! Don’t hold back, Lance. This is your opportunity. Grab as much of it as you can.”

Lance grinned, recalling a famous quote. “The point is, ladies and gentlemen, that greed, for lack of a better word—“

“—is a good thing!” Koopman cried with the excitement of a true fan. “Greed is right. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit.” The excited governor threw an arm around Lance’s shoulders. “I knew I would feel the spirit of kinship with you. We’re going to make a pile of money together.”

Lance could envision just that. After living in a mental and digital cell for so long, he felt like his horizons were opening up once more. It ignited his ambition and creativity and drive, a sensation he realized now he’d been missing something fierce. 

They arrived at last at a small office building in the heart of the town, a four-story affair overlooking the sea on one side and the salt lake on the other. While the gray stone of the structure gave the place a sense of gravitas, the huge, open windows gave it a more modern feel, somewhat at odds with the local architectural style. 

A pair of young women stood inside the door to greet them, each wearing a revealing green vest and short green skirt, a white flower in their hair. 

Koopman greeted the one closer to him with a kiss on the cheek and a hefty grab of her buttock. 

She giggled and allowed it.

As they reached the stairs, Koopman gave Lance a sly look. “None of that sexual harassment garbage in here. Whether they’re locals or female inmates, they know their place and role here if they want to remain happily employed. You want to bang your secretary? Go for it.” He laughed. “Just don’t bang anyone else’s without permission. Guys are territorial like that.”

Lance shook his head in wonder, unable to come up with a reply. A part of him admitted that the throwback to a different era did feel…natural. Maybe even welcome, though he wasn’t sure he would participate. Then he imagined his secretary bent over his desk, skirt around her waist, expression of pleasure all over her face as he pounded her. Well…it was something to think about.

Thanks to their leisurely walk about town, the others on the governor’s private team were already ensconced in the largest meeting room. All were male and reclined in wicker seats around a lustrous pale-wood table. 

They were dressed sharply but semi-casually in shorts or slacks and button shirts, though the tops were rarely tucked in. Unlike the black-and-white monotones of the actual business world, here, the fashion was as colourful as the houses, from pale pink or green shirts to strawberry red or emerald shorts. Leather sandals were typical. 

Koopman waved the group to silence. “Gentlemen! Friends. I have news. Today we welcome a new member.” He slapped Lance on the back and gave him a nod. “Lancelot Kinsley.”

A few raised glasses in toast. Others offered greetings. 

Lance suddenly felt awkward but nodded. “Hey, all.”

“Let me go around the table.” Koopman pointed his hand at the first team member. “Prion Busk, ultra-famous for being the world’s richest man for a very long time and celebrity entrepreneur.

“Shane Greene. Foreign minister of Ireland, responsible for making the emerald isle the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow by making it the world’s foremost tax haven for international corporations. 

“Noah Müller. The CEO of one of the oldest and largest of the famous Swiss banks.

 “Chuk Abubaker of Nigeria, a finance expert responsible for one of the largest investment projects of all time.

“Shane Trump. You’ll no doubt recognize one of the members of America’s celebrity-political dynasties. He was his father’s senior economic advisor at the White House.

“Fajar Lestari, originally of Indonesia, but who became the founder of the cryptocurrency, Giftcoin, in London.

“Bently Ogman. Former VP at Heralds Bank in Chicago.

“Abbud Hasshim, CEO of the Saudi national oil company and twice elected leader of OPEC.

“And finally, Grosse Vischi, one of the best corporate accountants in Europe, based in Italy.”

Lance’s mind was blank; he’d been stunned by the array of faces, many of which were very well known to him, some of his generation, some of a generation before. All legends. He tried not to stammer and feel like a boy amongst men. “It’s a pleasure to meet you all.”

Busk, with his typical easy charm and famous smile, spoke up first. He sat in a cloud of distinctive-smelling smoke, one of those fat, green cigars in one hand. The way he held himself and was the first to speak made it feel like he was something of a leader within the group. He rose and offered his free hand, his eyes shrewd. “Lance. Never got the chance to meet you. Which is crazy to think when we’re both in tech.”

Lance shook the hand and felt the man’s firm grip. “I always wished I’d had the chance. I grew up idolizing you. I think pretty much everyone with a computer and a dream did.” He laughed, dazed at meeting a long-time personal hero. 

Busk winked. “Even in here, the cream rises to the top. I’m looking forward to working with you.”

“Uh, the same. Wow. I just…” He laughed self-deprecatingly. 

Koopman clapped him on the shoulder. “Heroes of capitalism, one and all. Brought here to be on a team of all-stars like the world has never seen before. We’re going to take over this system. You’re going to fit right in, Lance. I just know it.”

Lance glanced around the room at the famous faces of men who had all done big things in life, icons of success. He thought the governor might just be right. 

He took a seat at the table.



Brechtje felt a right fool. A silly little girl. She clapped her hand over her face as she walked from the mansion into Philipsburg, mortified at her actions the night before. 

Had she really chased down the Juan Fernandez late at night, all the way to the docks—in public? And then thrown herself at him like some kind of cheap floozy? She cringed at what the man must have thought of her. How many other hussies had done the exact same thing at some point? And they were probably all ten years younger and that much prettier.

What of her husband? She was married! To the governor, of all people, and Juan was an inmate. She was lucky that her foolishness hadn’t been discovered. It would have completely undermined everything she’d come to this fake world to do. Namely, to get her husband back. 

It wasn’t that he’d divorced her or even tried to. But after he’d gotten this job, he’d spent longer and longer periods of time in this digital creation and less of his time in the real world with her. Naturally, she’d been supportive in the beginning. She’d made sacrifices, and when things first grew strained, they’d sat down and planned for him to regularly be with her on weekends and holidays and such. 

But as time had passed, he’d claimed to be increasingly busy. A weekend missed here and there had become commonplace. Eventually, months at a time had gone by without him returning to her and his actual home. 

She’d talked to him about it. Or tried to. He’d gotten defensive, even angry. It had strained their marriage even more than his absence had. She’d tried to understand him, but he’d just talk about how much work there was to do and how needed he was at his job. It had taken a long time for him to admit that he loved the work so much he hated to leave. 

After two years had gone by, he admitted that this digital world had come to feel more real than the original world. This had come to feel like his natural home. 

That had been a painful blow. She’d fought, argued, threatened divorce, and all he had done was wish her well if she wanted to leave. He hadn’t seemed to care at all that they were life partners. The hurt had only grown. 

Cases like hers were all-too-common and the prison had a policy that allowed spouses to join employees in the digital world. In an effort to understand her husband better and reconnect with him, she’d decided to join him here. Perhaps she would see what he loved about his work so much that it kept him engrossed in a world without her. And maybe they would be a better couple again. Optimistically and perhaps naively, she’d hoped time together in the Caribbean might be like a honeymoon. 

A couple of months had passed since her arrival. Things between them hadn’t been bad, per se. But they didn’t seem to be improving either. Even with her here, he seemed so distant. He often came home very, very late and sometimes didn’t come home at all. 

She was not stupid enough to still think that he was entirely caught up in work. Yes, she could see how excited and passionate he was about his job here. She also saw the exotic lifestyle he and his cronies enjoyed and how readily that had garnered his attention. Surprisingly, the knowledge that he was enjoying the physical charms of other women hadn’t hurt as much as she’d thought it would.

She strode towards his office building. They’d been married almost seven years. They’d had a good marriage. She just had to remind him of that. Maybe they could come to some sort of arrangement about his…desires. She was a modern woman. She understood that most marriages need to grow and change as time passes. Brechtje might not have been as ready for it as he seemingly was, but it was her duty to adapt for the sake of her partner. So she would try. 

He came out of the office building alone. Seeing her, he stood still, his jaw clenching as he waited for her to approach.“Brech. Wat doe jij hier?” What are you doing here?

For a long time, he’d called her Snoepje, a term of endearment meaning ‘little candy’. When had he stopped? And when was the last time that his eyes had lit up when seeing her? They were so flat right now. She smiled, giving him a warm look, despite the tepid reception. “Ik ben hier voor jou. Ik dacht dat we samen zouden lunchen.” I’m here for you. I thought we’d get lunch together.

“Niet Vandaag. Ik ben bezig.” Not today. I’m busy.

“Je bent altijd bezig.” You’re always busy. She switched to English. “A half-hour. We’ll go to the little café–“

“I said I’m busy. I’m working, Brech.”

“At lunchtime?”

“I’m always working.”

She couldn’t maintain the determined cheer any longer, and her shoulders sank. Her smile faded, and she looked down, unable to meet his eyes any longer. “I see.” Even as she reacted this way, a part of her hated herself for it. He would see her as bitchy or controlling or needy, and it would only make things worse between them.  

He looked away and sighed, and it sounded like he was trying to suppress his aggravation. “I will be home for dinner. Probably. Ok?” He turned and strode off towards the casino with a short wave, not waiting for an answer. 

She watched him go, standing alone in the street, not caring that others saw. Nobody stopped to say anything. Nobody cared. If Brechtje had been back home, she would have tried to find some female friends to commiserate with, but she didn’t have that option here. It was challenging to befriend locals who didn’t have her education and knowledge. Only two guards on the island had brought their wives into the system, and she had simply not connected with them, being too different. 

She was lonely and frustrated by her inability to repair her marriage. But somewhat to her surprise, she was not as heartbroken as she expected. Thoughtful, she wandered away from town and went to the beach on Great Salt Lake. Sitting on the edge of the pristine, bone-white sand under some trees for shade, she relaxed and just let herself be, closing her eyes and tuning out the sounds of the port and town.

The marriage had been withering away for quite some time. There had been heartache and drama in the beginning. But now…they had drifted far enough apart that the pain was dull. Why? 

Perhaps it was so many months where she’d felt like the only one fighting for the relationship. He hadn’t been cruel or abusive. He hadn’t turned on her or tried to intentionally hurt her. It was just that he didn’t seem to care anymore. In the face of that, perhaps she was also losing the impetus to care. 

Was that why seeing Juan Fernandez had struck such a chord in her breast? Why her heart had beat so fast in his presence? She was pretty sure that if she and her husband had been happily together, she wouldn’t have been as affected by the handsome actor, no matter her crush on him. She wasn’t the type of person able to hold a romantic interest in more than one person at a time. So if she was feeling this giddy and excited over Juan, maybe it was because she just wasn’t as in love with her husband as she had been. 

She opened her eyes again and blinked at the sun’s glare off the sand. It was another cloudless day, the pure-blue sky gorgeous.

Was it time to give up on her marriage? To move on? It would be a seismic change to her identity and her lifestyle. That was…both frightening and kind of exciting. She wasn’t in her twenties anymore and hadn’t been for a long time. But she wasn’t an old maid just yet. Could she reinvent herself? Set out on a new path in life? 

Her lips curved into a smile. She was pretty sure she could.