When Jack Fleetwood beamed out of his Lansing office VRS he held his hands out in front of him, palms forward, comparing everything about them with how they looked in virtual reality. The only noticeable difference was in the absence of the deep tan he had when his body was scanned for the creation of Virtual Reality Personas the year before.
Overlapping networks of infrared and ultra-sonic sensors were planted in his ceiling, his floor, his walls and his chair, to monitor minute changes in body temperature, muscular contractions and galvanic skin resistance. As Jack understood it, outdated information from the sensors could not be translated by the computer into the appropriate corresponding actions or reactions of the VRP. The bizarre effects that resulted from outdated scans, like speech without lip movement, or disintegrating portions of midsection, were as embarrassing in a VRS as a gas attack in a conventional meeting. Jack had seen it happen to women with too much make-up and men like Steve who tended to gain too much weight. He wasnt going to let it happen to him.
"Activate computer voice control," he said.
"Voice control on," answered the computer in the voice of his administrative assistant, Marge Porter. "Leave a message for Marge in the Lansing office to schedule a VRP body scan for me as soon as possible. His inflection told the computer when he was finished, as it would had he been talking to a human being.
"Yes sir," said the computer.
Leaving the computer in the voice control mode, Jack stood akimbo on the carpeted floor in his bare feet and studied the slick, high-tech features of his home office. He had everything, including a modern desk with modular compartments for state-of-the-art word processing, faxing, printing, ELFing, polling, banking, purchasing, investing, corresponding and computing. Before the meeting with Sanderson, Jack would have thought that his virtual reality set-up was state-of-the-art. Now he wasnt sure how advanced any of his electronic gadgets were.
For some men it would have been a vanity issue. For the attorney general of the State of Michigan, and the leading candidate for the American Partys Presidential nomination, it was a legitimate matter of concern. It wasnt about status; it was about power. Whoever controlled the technologies of perceptions, controlled the polls to a substantial degree, and the polls, to a substantial degree, controlled the politicians. If he didnt have access to the best available communication technology, who did? Sure, it was the men with the rings, but who the hell were they?
He was on dangerous ground. Perhaps it was best not to think about such things...But how could he not think about them? He needed to talk to somebody outside of the political arena. Too bad Kimberly wasnt home. Too bad that old friend of hers from junior high had come back into her life. Too bad they had so much to do together outside of the Fleetwood estate.
Jack felt a pang of jealousy and suspicion. Whether it was his jealousy driving his suspicion or the other way around, he couldnt say, but the warning signs of infidelity were too conspicuous to ignore, not the least of which was her new bag of erotic tricks. Where did they come from? Surely not the romance novels she was so fond of before this Shelly woman came along.
"Computer," he said, "Page my wife. And have her give me a call on my private line. And, ah, use my voice...."
Kimberly answered the page right away, seeing her husbands face in her wristband telewindow when she pressed the answer button. "Yes, darling?" she said in a whisper, mirroring her face in her T-window so that it filled the screen, then switching the mirror off so she could see her husband. A stage actor in the hollow sounding background was shouting lines about a good meal or a good deal or some damn thing. Jacks foolish expression told Kimberly that he had expected to catch her in a compromising situation.
"Just wanted to know when youd be home," he said.
Kimberly smiled. "You sweet thing. Miss me already?"
Jack smiled as best he could, "The meeting didnt go well. I needed somebody to talk to. Somebody I could trust."
Kimberlys face betrayed her guilt, "Were leaving now," she said.
"No, no, no!" said Jack. "Stay and enjoy yourself."
Kimberly wrinkled her nose, "Weve seen enough. Ill be home in about half an hour, I guess."
He blew her a kiss and hung up.
Kimberly sat on the edge of the motel bed wearing something that looked like a sheer, gray, turtle-neck body stocking, and trembled. She turned off the ambient sound program from a local theater stage production, buried her face in her mesh-covered hands and sobbed, with guilt, fear and self-loathing threatening to run amuck. For the first time in her life, serious thoughts of self-destruction played across her mind in a non-stop series of macabre vignettes. When she couldnt switch off the dark thoughts, she threw herself on the bed and whaled like a lost soul falling headlong into the sulfurous pits of hell.
Blue had been right about Jack. He did love her. She had betrayed him and laughed at how she had used his love to get him to betray himself. What kind of odious creature was she?
Kimberly recognized the voice of Vera Karr before she recognized herself as the person Vera was talking to, curled in the fetal position on the bed. The brown-eyed, mousy-haired woman in the gray body stocking, bent over the bed, gently shaking her.
"Christ!" said Vera, looking into Kimberlys red, swollen eyes and tear-stained face. "You scared me to death. And you forgot to lock your side of the door." She looked at the open computer case on the night table and the gray thing laying next to it, which looked like a rubbery, mesh, ski mask with dark plastic lenses. "Did you have a problem with the body net?"
Kimberly shook her head, sitting upright with her back against the headboard and rolled the soft, thin gloves off of her hands. She tossed the gloves on the table next to the mask and pinched a piece of the thin, elastic material on her upper arm. "The net is fine. Its...Its this!" she said, flinging her arms wide to indicate the motel room, which, in turn, indicated why she and Vera were there.
Vera got the message, though her feelings on the subject were different. She didnt argue the point. She pulled up a chair, and listened.
Kimberly snapped her eyes shut, her face seeming to exhaust the apparent range of forlorn possibilities as her head fell back against the headboard and her whole body relaxed. She took a deep breath and let it out slowly. She opened her eyes.
"Jack has a virtual reality system that requires a special room, special furniture and a special person to use it. This net and goggle thing seemed like such a good idea when Glen suggested itlike a godsend..."
Kimberly weighed the pros and cons of telling her new friend the whole story. She decided it was time to tell allwell, almost all.
"We have a blind telephone line that goes to receivers you pick up and hold to your ear," she said. "The kind you see in old movies. Its our family line. Anyone in the household can answer it. When Glen called to give Jack hell about throwing in with Estelle Gidarb, I had the house to myself, so the call was automatically transferred to my personal line before Glen or I knew what had happened."
"Oh, Kim," said Vera, glancing at the unlocked door between their rooms. If she was that careless all the time, she was a security problem for Vera and Glen.
Kimberly caught the glance toward the door and smiled. "Ive never locked my side of the door to an adjoining room between us. I didnt think either of us did.
Vera swallowed Kimberlys remark with a crooked smile.
"What happened with my private phone was a one in a million accident. I was keying-in a program Blah..." Kimberly had no choice but to stop short. This was the first time she was forced to give her lover a name. After coming close to blurting out his real one, the first alias she thought of was "Tyrone," which she rejected with a nasty start when she realized its place at the head of the list was because it sounded African-American. She almost said "John." But as her lips began to form the name, she saw herself in her mind as a street corner prostitute with a steady black customer. Then the "John" became Blue Monday in an outfit designed for black street pimps of the 1970s.
After several long seconds of red-faced fishing for a name she could use in place of Blue, Kimberly began again. "I was keying-in a program my friend was running in his T-window. I must have hit the enter button at the same time he got switched to my line."
"That would do it, said Vera. "No chime. You wouldnt know he was on line with you and your friend unless he announced his presence."
"He didnt know it either, at first. The very first line of the program was pretty graphic. Because of the timing, it was the fist thing he heard. He thought hed gotten switched to a porno line. When he realized what was happening, he backed out and called back later to lay everything out for me. Thats what I mean by a godsend. If it had been anyone else who got in instead of him, it would have been a disaster.
"The way you were carrying on," said Vera, "this is a disaster."
Kimberly hung her head for a long time. Raising it slowly, she said, "Vera?"
"Does your husband still love you?"
Vera shrugged, "Youd have to ask him. Ill tell you this, though; whether he loves me or not, he has given me no reason to love him."
"But what about your wedding vows?"
Vera did a double take. The attorney generals wife was the only adult she knew who was capable of asking questions like that. From the day Glen recruited her to play the part of Shelly, this living Barbies childhood friend, Vera had often wondered if Kimbery could be for real. She wondered how a man could make love to her without feeling like a pedophile.
"My husband and I both took vows," said Vera. "Look at it this way: Suppose you marry a guy you think is a paragonand suppose you find out later that hes a gun dealer or a cigarette dealer or some other death-dealing criminal. Would you think of yourself as breaking a sacred vow of love and fidelity if your feelings for him changed?"
Kimberly shook her head slowly, "I dont know if this is the same thing. Jack hasnt changed; I have."
"Youve opened your eyes to possibilities you never considered before. Youre seeing things you never saw before because youre looking for the truth and youre thinking like an adult. Thats how youve changed. Jack cant see any more than he ever did because hes still walking around with his head up his ass. How could you go on loving a man like thatif you ever really did?"
"Oh, I loved him, all right, even when I was getting to know, ah... my friend. I didnt think a woman could love more than one man at the same time, not really and truly, but I did until I was forced to choose."
"Your choice was between a condemned man and his executioner"
Kimberlys eyes widened as though she were about to be flattened by a fast moving train. "Glen told you!" hissed Kimberly accusingly. "Who else did he tell? Who else did you tell; fifty our sixty of your closest friends?"
Enlightenment broke slowly across Veras face. She hadnt used Blues name, but the "condemned man" could have been no one else.
"Glen didnt tell me," lied Vera, feigning righteous indignation, "You did."
"Oh, come on! We never talked about who we were fucking."
Fucking? Did I hear that right, thought Vera, astounded that those Doll lips could form that alley slut word. She wanted to kick that around in her mind for a while but she had to think fast to come up with a good story to explain her faux pas. "Thats what you think," she said, cryptically.
"What do you mean?"
"Try to look at it logically. Ive been playing Shelly for almost two months. The first time I came over to that mansion of yours to meet your husband, I saw how much it bothered you when he said what a pleasure it was going to be to see Blue Monday Gidarbed."
"What kind of connection is that? You didnt give Jack one of your best smiles when he said it. Does that mean youre going to bed with Blue?"
Going to bed. Now that was more like it.
Vera shifted in her chair. "Im not saying that any one thing you did told me..."
With that thought, came a series of recollections which might have given her the answer had she been imaginative enough to picture this Barbi doll with Tyrone, instead of Ken. Had she seen the Sharon and Louise Show with Estelle and Euel, or read Estelles book, she would have made the connection automatically.
"Do you remember telling me how you got into the X Channel?"
Kimberly hesitated. "Yes," she said, drawing the word out cautiously. "But I left out the part about Blue."
Something in Kimberlys uncertain expression struck a gong between Veras ears. "No you didnt," she said.
Vera didnt have to think fast anymore. She didnt have to make up a thing. She knew something Glen hadnt told her. She knew how Barbi and Tyrone linked up.
"The world isnt as big as you think it is, especially the world of virtual reality. That net youre wearing and the tasteless liquid that comes with it that you put in those other places you want to feel something in VR, is gonna cost as much as a Ho Chi with Day-Light glass and a good set of tires. Right now, its only available to you, me and Glen. That means, whoever youre meeting in a Virtual Reality Setting has to be rich enough to afford a station-based, full immersion setup, like your husbands. That narrows things down considerably."
Kimberly followed the womans reasoning with grudging respect. She was still a long way from tying her and Blue together, but she was systematically limiting the possibilities. "It could have been an executive I met through any number of business or social functions."
Vera shook her head. "It had to be somebody you met after your husband went on that show in Wyoming because thats when you told me you learned how to get into the X Channel. And it had to be before Glen read that womans book and went back to see the show. That was only a three day spread. You said you were looking in the X Channel index for something with the color blue in it but you didnt find it because you were looking on the wrong day. The blue adds werent on any of those days. But Blue Mondays was."
Kimberly shook her head again. "Thats still doesnt say enough. The best you could do was make a wild guess."
Vera grinned, offering her hands up as if to say; there you are.
Kimberlys jaw dropped. "You were guessing?"
"I wouldnt have been able to do that if you hadnt had so much trouble with a name. You were going to say his first name when you balked. If it was Sid, John, Harry or something like that, you would have said it and kept on going. There would have been no reason not to. I didnt get it the first time, but when you did it again, I knew it had to be an unusual name, one that both of us knew. So if you put that with the fact that it had to be somebody with enough money for a virtual reality chamber, and somebody a nice girl like you could have a blue conversation with three days after meeting him...Well, name two guys who might fit that description. I came up with one."
"I have to hand it to you Vera. Youre one smart lady."
"When youve been leading a double life as long as I have, you get good at some things." Like lying, she thought. She said, "I dont think anybody else would figure it out."
"Oh Vera, Im sorry I said those things about you. I didnt mean it."
"It was nothing. Ive already forgotten it."
"I wish I could. I was so nasty to you."
"If I were in your place I would have reacted the same way you did. Youre torn between two men you have strong feelings for."
"No. I was torn. I made the only choice I thought I could live with...But now I dont see how I can live with it. I dont know how I can live without Blue and I dont know how I can leave my husband, knowing how it would humiliate him and ruin his career. Sounds silly, doesnt it? Valuable parts of one mans anatomy verses another mans pride and ambitionand I dont know who I should root for because Im sleeping with both of them."
You cant help what you feel with your husband or your lover. Its chemistry."
"Thats what I used to think. But Ive never been closer to Blue than 40 miles."
"Who says distance has anything to do with it? People separated from each other by continents have fallen in love."
"I dont know, Vera. Maybe theres no such thing as falling in love with another person. Maybe we fall in love with our own ideas and talk ourselves into feeling something for people we think we can share it with."
"Oh. So you fell in love with the idea of being a black porno kings woman."
Kimberly frowned. "Of course not."
"Glen wasnt my idea of the perfect man either. But I love him. Maybe God has more to do with it than we do."
"What do you mean?" asked Kimberly.
"I once saw an X Channel talk show where they spent a whole hour asking people about their sexual preferences. You got like five or ten second snapshots of what attracted and repelled people physically and emotionally. It got so repetitious, I almost switched to something else. There was no pattern to it, no clever transitions from one person to the next; just one man or woman after another saying: I love this, I hate that, I want this I dont want that. Once in a while youd see or hear something that matched something or someone you didnt expect. After ten minutes or so, it got interesting, cause now you start seeing the pattern. You started seeing how people really matched up, and even the crazy shit dont seem so crazy."
"Im not sure I follow you."
"Sexual chemistry is a mosaic. You cant see the whole picture by looking at a single tile. You have to look at all ofem. The big concern everybody has about sexual correctness might have been useful when there werent enough humans to go around. Now its killing us. We need more diversity in sex, not more conformity. We need more non-reproductive sex so well have fewer children and more interracial marriages so the ones we have will be less likely to hate whole classes of people because of their race."
Kimberly shook her head. "You cant pick sex partners for people and force them into sexual relationships for your own political purposes."
"Ah-hah!" said Vera. "Thats my point. You dont have to force people to do whats natural for them. You have to allow it. Thats what I have with Glen. Thats what you have with Blue. But we had to go outside of the law to get it."
Yes, thought Kimberly, shes right!
She and Vera had found in Blue and Glen, people who gave them permission to be themselves. The law gave Jack and Jill permission to choke the life out of them.
Copyright © 1998 by Jasper Garrison
Contact the author: Jasper Garrison