Electronically generated Virtual Reality Personas had come a long way in a short while. At 59, Steve Sheffer, the oldest of three staffers in the Virtual Reality Session called by Jake Fleetwood, remembered when the best VRPs looked like bad ELFs. At twenty-nine, Joe Lonnigan, the youngest member of the Fleetwood strategy team, could recall VRPs which werent much better. Sitting across from each other, so to speak, at the long, electronically generated table, their electronically generated bodies looked real enough for both to forget they werent in the same room. Jennifer Bertalewski, the dowdy, long-faced, middle-aged woman who appeared to be sitting next to Joe was in a different city. A slim, white-suited, aristocratic-looking man with a deeply cleft chin, who appeared to be sitting next to Steve, was in another time zone.
The man in the white suit was not a member of the staff.
He checked the time display on his virtual reality wristband. He was used to VRS conferences in more exotic locals. His distaste for this ordinary office, which he correctly discerned was a duplicate of the Michigan attorney generals, showed on his face. It was the look of a man accustomed to pheasant under glass getting a weenie on a paper plate.
He opened his virtual reality mouth in preparation to speak, when a coruscating cloud of light formed in the chair kitty cornered to him at the head of the table. It made a sound like a five pound Alka-Seltzer tablet dissolving in a fifty gallon glass of water.
Within two seconds, the amorphous form became a human silhouette with undefined patches of sparkling colored light. In another second, the fizzing stopped and the sparkles were gone. The patches of color became a well defined indigo business suit, a light blue shirt, a black tie looped over the knot, wavy brown hair, and a boyish face with a healthy-looking tan. It became the Virtual Reality Persona of Jack Fleetwood. It was how he looked in or out of a VRS.
Whenever Jack entered a Virtual Reality Setting, his mind was on business. He didnt think of his VRP as a thing apart from himself, nor did he see the personas of his staff as things apart from them. But the virtual reality persona of the man in the white suit struck him immediately as being too good to be real, more like a perfect ELF than a perfect representation of a flesh and blood human being. It was how the human models for close-up advertisements on television looked before they were replaced in telewindows, by ELFs. The only real person he knew with such arrestingly flawless features, was his wife, Kimberly.
"You must be Doug Sanderson," said Jack.
The man in the white suit nodded.
"Im sorry I was late," said Jack, extending his hand, "Had a last minute thing with the kid."
The hand coming up to meet his bore a large circular ring with a shiny, flat, black pearl disk bordered by a plain gold circle. That was Jacks first solid clue that he was dealing with somebody of influence in the party.
A spy in Jacks home office would have seen his body clad in green pajamas sitting upright in a swivel chair. The motion of his body was restrained to barely a hint of what he was doing in virtual reality, like what a sleeping man might do in a dream. Electronic signals carried on an intricate network of pulsing light blinded him to what he would have normally been able to see and superimposed upon his visual cortex a computer-generated field of vision. This, he had believed, was state-of-the-art technology.
Not all virtual reality chambers worked the way Jacks did. Some older systems required special suits or glasses or both. As Jacks virtual reality hand accepted Sandersons in a commanding handshake, he wondered how Sandersons worked. Nobody shook hands in a VRS because it was such a difficult thing to coordinate. Yet Sanderson did it as though it was as natural as doing it in the flesh. If the system generating his VRP wasnt a step up from Jacks, the program that created it had to be.
Steve and Jen both took note of the handshake and recognized its significance as a test of power. A man does not go from assistant county prosecutor, to attorney general, to a crack at the White House in two giant steps without having a special gift for politics. Jack had many, one of which was the ability to see opportunity or danger where others saw nothing. Steve guessed correctly that his boss had seen danger.
Jen turned to Jack, "Mr. Sanderson cant stay long."
"Hunting season," he said with a wink and a touch of a British accent that sounded affected to Jack and Steve.
Jack smiled politely, hiding his loathing for men who hunted and killed other men for sport. If there was one aspect of the NEZ system he didnt agree with, that was it. It was one of the things he hoped to change if he won the Presidency. The whole idea of NEZs was beginning to look less to him like an answer to a problem than a problem in itself. That was something else he would have to address when his position in the Party, vis-à-vis men with rings like Sandersons, was more secure.
"Thanks for beaming in on such short notice," said Jack, wondering how anyone as active in American Party politics as he had been since his youth, had never heard of Doug Sanderson. The Presidential appointment of mystery men like him, to high confidential posts within the party was another thing that was going to change when Jack became Presidentif he could get past guys like Sanderson to win the nomination.
"Jen tells me you were a time track engineering and programming director for CBI before you decided to work full time for the Party."
"I was the West Coast District Manager," said Sanderson. "How can I help you?"
Jack cut his eye toward Jen, whose expression told him that she had briefed the man the way she was supposed to. Looking back into Sandersons crystal blue eyes, Jack detected no sign of modifying the unstated suggestion in his tone that he had not been properly briefed. It was a power game, a way of forcing the attorney general to perform the chore of an underling and to burn up time, which he was told up front was at a premium. Since the message was communicated non-verbally, Jack could not make an issue of it. If he wanted to get anything out of this "real American" with the phony British accent, he was going to have to be a good boy and play the game. His greatly diminished sense of self burned crimson through his tan.
Joe, the young staffer sitting across from the Party man with the wonderful accent, stared in admiration. Until now, hed thought that no one could stand toe-to-toe with his boss and come out of it on his feet. This Sanderson fella was something else. He wore power like a heavyweight boxing crown. Using little more than a subtle intonation, he had landed a solid punch which made Jack Fleetwood look like a lightweight looser.
Jen was more frightened than impressed. So was Steve, but he concealed it better than she did. Hed never been comfortable with the national Party elite. Now he had an excellent reason not to be.
Jacks embarrassment quickly turned to anger and mellowed nearly as quickly. "I want to know whats going on," he said.
"Thats what I asked you," said Sanderson.
Jack paused long enough to whip his anger back into its cage. "Mr. Sanderson, the American Party was founded on family values. We were given a mandate by the American people to see that those values were restored. Weve turned things around in this country by staying true to that mandate. The continued existence of the X Channel is incompatible with who and what were supposed to be."
"What does the Party have to do with the X Channel?
"You tell me."
Sanderson cocked his head in a clear reassessment of the young attorney generals integrity. "Youre serious about the Blue Monday prosecution, arent you?"
"Of course I am. But hes only a symptom of the disease. Hundreds of other smut peddlers are spreading their filth through the X Channel as we speak. If we could arrest every one of them today, someone else would be sitting in their seats tomorrow."
"One would think that the threat of this...this Gidarb procedure would be enough to prevent that."
Jack scoffed. "The law was drafted in too much of a hurry. Its good, as far as it goes but it doesnt go far enough. And, just between us, it was put together so sloppily that it has created loopholes in current anti-obscenity statutes that make a smart pornographer harder to prosecute than before. Women are being induced, seduced or coerced into fronting for men. Some women are using the law to exploit themselves. We have to make an example out of Monday; thats for sure. But hes got a sharp lawyer"
Sanderson laughed. "That fat, queer, Mexican slut with the nigger lips, the cow tits and the thick ankles? She looks like a lighter version of Mondays ex-wife." He made a face like a man who had just swallowed bad tasting medicine "Now thats one ugly toasty. The guy has no fucking tastes."
Jen had never heard that kind of language in a meeting chaired by Jack Fleetwood. He wouldnt have stood for it. He would not have had anyone on his staff who thought like that if he could help it. He couldnt respond to Sandersons crude remarks, but Jen could. "Leah Flores is smart and she knows the law."
Joe rubbed his virtual reality nose. "Were pretty sharp ourselves. But even the best of us drop the ball now and then. Weve done it twice and both times shes picked it up and run with it."
"They were more like interception than fumbles," said Jack, taking the responsibly of the quarterback. "I wrongly assumed we could keep Monday in jail where we could watch him until he was tried, convicted and his sentence was carried out. He had all kinds of people coming to his rescue, including his ex-wife, who, by the way, is a successful physician. He could be anywhere now, into who-knows-what mischief...."
Kimberly Fleetwood rested her head on Blue Mondays bare chest, her pail complexion and corn-silk blond hair making a pleasing visual contrast to his hairless, milk chocolate skin. She had mentioned it to him the first time they made love. He hadnt wanted to know there was a difference worth noting. Blacks and blondes. Christ! He tried not to think about it and felt like a monkey in a dress suit whenever he did.
Only now, as he lovingly stroked her soft blond hair, recalling that the hair of his last black lover had been softer to the touch, he saw the beauty of their color contrast. Strange how the idle thought about the superior tactile quality of a black womans hair had permitted him to see the artistic merit of black and white flesh tones pressed together in an intimate embrace. Then again, maybe not so strange when one considered how many other ideas were attached to the image of a dark-skinned black man holding a naked blond woman in his arms.
What was truly strange, was that he would find Kimberly attractive at all. Yes, she looked nice enough for men who prized those physical characteristics in women that were distinctively Caucasian. Blues tastes in women had more to do with their adventurous sexuality than their looks. Kimbery was so child-like in that respect it was more uncomfortable for Blue than exciting. But physical characteristics did count for something. If Kimberly Fleetwood and Leah Flores had passed him in the street as strangers in the normal course of things, he would not have given Kimberly a second look. Leah Flores, on the other hand, might have snapped his neck out of place.
Kimberly listened to the beat of her lovers heart, feeling the warmth of his body and the love in the fingers combing her hair. She had the wild urge to kiss every inch of his body and to linger in the places nice girls werent supposed tonot that it was a new idea or something she hadnt done to him before. It was just that her love for him sometimes welled up like happy tears, and a shower of kisses was how it released itself in her mind. She dared not think of what shed give to make him happy becuase the answer might have been, anything....
Sanderson looked impatient. "I dont follow these things," he said, "so correct me if Im wrong. Didnt Monday get bailed out of jail by that Mexican cows lezzie lover?"
Jack demurred, "Well..."
"Okay, I know there was more to it than that, but that is essentially what happened, isnt it?"
"Yes. It was Andrea Urnan's money. Leah Flores did the actual posting."
"Both of these so-called women are state licensed professionals," said Sanderson. "Why dont you pull their licenses?"
Joe couldnt believe such an intelligent accent could enunciate so dumb a remark. "Weve been trying to," he said, "That was our second mistake. Instead of backing off, they put up a fight. Nobody who stands to lose what they do has ever done that."
"So?" said Sanderson, blissfully unaware of the status he was loosing with every sound that proceeded from his arrogant, ignorant mouth. American Party big-wig or not, he didnt know as much about government as a straight "C" high school freshman. However different things were out West or wherever he came from, the Constitution of the United States still had something to say about due process.
The Party mans loose hold on the fundamentals of governmental power scared Steve more than the power game he played with Jack at the start of the meeting. Joe was afraid to speak. He was more afraid not to. "Time could be on their side," he said.
Thats it! thought Jack, seeing the subtle, artificial mismatch between the uncertain voice and the confident face. Hed noticed the same thing in a VRS conference with a programming vice-president for Condor Broadcasting Inc., a former Negro named McBain, who wore a ring like Sandersons and told him nothing about the X Channel. He thought hed imagined it. Now he was positive he had seen it. These guys were doing something which was suppose to be technologically unfeasible, according to every expert hed ever talked to. They were running Virtual Reality Personas, programmed not to represent the users full range of spontaneous visible emotions; a hell of an asset in a virtual reality poker game. Jacks mind was whirring with here-to-fore undreamed of possibilitiesall of them bad.
It was no small accomplishment to tear himself away from those thoughts and rejoin the flow of discussion. Now, where were we? Time. Somebody was telling the big dummy why time was on the side of Leah Flores and Andrea Urlan...
Jen squinted in irritation at the Party mans attitude. He was acting as though Jack Fleetwood, Estelle Gidarb and Blue Monday meant nothing to him or the Party and the law was something he could change at his whim. "We cant take unilateral action in cases of this sort," she said. "All we can do is allege ethics violations and urge the appropriate state licensing boards to investigate."
Sanderson rolled his eyes. "They admitted they were a couple of dykes, for crying out loud. What more do you need?"
Joe shook his head. "Being and doing are different things in the eyes of the law. They could admit to being chain-saw murderers. What would that mean? It could be a metaphor or a state of mind. It wouldnt mean a thing if they didnt admit to murdering somebody with a chain-saw and we didnt have evidence that they did it."
"Youre muddying the waters here, young man. Nobody accused these women of murdering anybody. Theyre perverts. That all. But if one of them is licensed to oversee your citizens mental health and the other is an officer of the court, that should be enough."
"Mr. Sanderson," said Jen, "The law can prohibit only specific unnatural acts, such as oral sex or other perverted sexual practices prohibited under Michigans sodomy laws. Its the same in every other state."
Jack winced inwardly at the mention of oral intercourse. Joe dropped his eyes and moistened his lips. Steve showed no reaction. Neither did Sanderson.
Jen was being deliberately provocative with her daring example of a perverted sexual practice, using words that bordered on the pornographic to shock the Party man; to make him see the forest they were lost in by naming a tree. Even the clinical name for the act, which he would certainly picture with revulsion, was too vile to say. The discomfort normal people like her had with such words said everything that needed to be said about the acts themselves and the depiction of them on the X Channel. Even the flashbacks of Monica Lewinski and President Clinton that were supposed to have "historical" value were only excuses to wallow in filth. Sanderson was supposed to have beamed into the Fleetwood office VRS to explain the partys lack of cooperation in closing down the X Channel. He was avoiding the issue altogether, just as the man from CBI had.
Jack and Steve saw what was going on with Sanderson, too. The man was stupid, all rightlike a fox.
Sanderson checked his wristband time display. "My pilot tells me well be touching down in LA any minute now. Perhaps we can talk about this next week when I get back. Good-day." With that, his VRP broke up into sparkling islands of light which soon became one indistinguishable mix of colors and fizzed away to nothing.
"Whaddaya think," said Steve.
Jack sighed. "I think Mr. Sanderson is on an airplane thats about to land in LA."
Joe looked bewildered. "I didnt know they could go into a VRS from a seat on an airplane."
Steve pulled a lit cigarette out of the virtual reality air, "They can do anything," he said....
Kimberly felt the partial weight of her lovers bare black buttocks against her bare white stomach. His knees rested on either side of her. Looking up into the mirrored ceiling of his bedroom, she drank in the erotic vision of herself and Blue on his big brass bed. She closed her eyes, luxuriating in the warmth of his manly hands roaming freely across her upper torso and his other manly parts resting against her warm, moist skin.
She loved it. It was one of innumerable little pleasures she had never experienced the likes of before, and her romance novels could not have hinted at without going too far.
This is how men and women are supposed to be together, she thought. She and Blue were free to revel in the pleasure of each others minds and bodies, to explore the God-given limits of joy to be found in each others company without fear of censure. She hadnt told Blue all of her fantasies yet, nor was she sure that she ever would. Some fantasies were only good when no one else shared them. That, too, was an understanding that defined the sexual freedom they had and gave to each other. It was always this way with her and Blue. She could not say that of herself and here husband. The more hours she spent with Blue, the more she resented her years with Jack.
Until recently she couldnt tell Jack what she desired most or what she thought she might want to try. She couldnt even say what she would have enjoyed seeing other people do through the safety barrier of a telewindow.
In Kimberlys new reckoning of things, that was what the STOPIT cause that Jack had so eagerly and publicly embraced as his own, was out to do. Stopping pornography, as defined by them, was a means to an end. Their objective was to stop free thought and dialogue on the subject of sex by injecting fear of honest expression into the process of private discourse. They wanted to stop anyone from thinking out loud about things STOPIT didnt want to hear.
When you could say and hear anything about sex, you could say and hear anything about anything. When you couldnt you were denying yourself the opportunity to learn the whole truth about your own sexuality and its proper place in Gods grand scheme of things. The truthGods truthwas what people like Estelle Gidarb and her husbands associates in the American Party feared most.
When you begin with the idea that you already knew the truth, you could tell where a search for it was going to end. If you sought the truth with the idea that you might have something to learn, there was no telling where it would end. Thats one of the things Blue taught her and what she was determined to teach Jack, for the sake of Blues body and Jacks soul.
Blue bent down and planted a long, wet, lingering kiss on her lips. There was no telling when or where he would stop.
Jack would have stopped with her left nipple. That is, he would have until a week ago. Kimberly smiled. Then she laughed.
Blue smiled. "Mind letting me in on the joke?"
"I was thinking about Jacks knew hobby."
She laughed, "I cant remember when Ive seen so much of the top of his head. The poor boy cant seem to get enough." She thought that Blue would be as amused by that as she was, but after a polite chuckle, he rolled over onto his back and stared up, in deep, serious thought.
Kimberly straddled his body the way he had straddle hers. "Whats the matter, sweetheart?" she whispered leaning forward until her nose rubbed against his, then backing away enough to allow him room to speak.
"A psychologist friend of mine told me that pleasure is addictive. Pleasing you is the greatest pleasure I know...He loves you as much as I do."
Kimberly sat upright, his words ripping at her insides. All the repressed pain and guilt of her affair with him and her manipulation of her husband to save him, gushed fourth from the open wound. She had thought that Blue was incapable of hurting her. He had just taught her how wrong she was. She felt a flash of anger directed first at Blue, then at Jack and finally at herself. Looking deeply into Blues face, she saw no anger at anyone, including the man who was trying to emasculate him. She saw only empathy with his feelings toward her.
She started to say something, then thought better of it. "I love you, too," she said, after another false start. "I used to think I loved Jack. Maybe I did before I met you...No, thats not true. I thought I loved him until he met you. When I realized I had to make a choice, I chose you. I dont like using Jacks feeling for me the way I have. If I could find another way, Id do it." Kimberlys voice cracked, and her lower lip quivered. "But Id still be in love with you."
Blue saw tears spring from her eyes. That was the last of her he saw before her image broke up into sparkling islands of light which soon became one indistinguishable mix of colors, and fizzed away to nothing.
Copyright © 1998 by Jasper Garrison
Contact the author: Jasper Garrison