"Laramie Wyoming? You want me to watch a talk show in Laramie Wyoming? Honestly, Jill, I dont know how you come up with these things."
"Just do it, Kimmy. Youll thank me."
Kimberly Fleetwood was already cursing the woman whose voice she heard in the miniature receivers implanted near the openings of her ear canals. Her nosy, overbearing acquaintance from her wasted years in college had interrupted an exhilarating ride down the rapids of the mighty Snake River behind her new, custom-fit, Virtual Reality Visor. If she watched the talk show she didnt know when shed have another chance to finish the ride. If she didnt, shed get a downloaded T-window disk from Jill the next day and have to watch anyway, just to convince her to say no more about it.
"You know," said Kimberly, "If you werent the only friend Jack didnt pick for me, Id have to cut you loose."
Jill, cackled in ignorant amusement, as she always did, when Kimberly told her the truth about their relationship. The only company Kimberly dreaded as much as Jills, was her mothers. The only company she dreaded more was a friend, any friend, of her husband, the attorney general of the State of Michigan. God! how she hated Lansing politics.
Had she not been married at such a young age to a man who might win the American partys nomination for president of the United States, she wouldnt have felt so trapped. If the prison of marriage to Jack hadnt looked so much like an escape hatch from the prison of her mothers home...If, if, if. If she didnt discover who she was before she turned 35, shed shoot herself. Of course shed said that about turning 30. Yet, here she was at 34-and-three-quarters, still plodding ahead in someone elses footprints with no sign that she was ever going to make her own.
Familiar hands caressed her shoulders. Familiar lips kissed the top of her head in the part between her long, straight, corn-silk locks.
She was no more startled by her husbands unannounced presence behind her than she had been by Jill Kaisers phone call. Jack always approached her and kissed her like that when she was privately engaged on her radio-telephone. When she still wore ear-lobe receivers, the way most women did, she used to think he did that to hear who she was talking to. He couldnt see who it was because she never looked at them or their ELectronic Facsimiles in a T-window as they spoke, if she could avoid it. Now that both of them had gotten receiver implants, she knew he wasnt trying to eavesdrop. He was conducting a boring love ritual, like all of his other rituals, in and out of bed. A peck on the right cheek was next.
He kissed her on the right cheek. "Hi, sweetheart, he said.
"Is Jack home?" asked Jill.
"Who else would it be?" Jack and Jill, thought Kimberly, for the umpteenth timeif two people just naturally belonged together...
"Dont get snippy. Put him on."
"Why dont you put him on?" asked Kimberly, removing her visor as Jack settled in beside her on their main entertainment rooms tan leather couch. He draped his dark blue, Softglow suit jacket over the arm, and loosened his tie.
"Jeez, Kimmey. You could have done it already."
Kimberly touched a preset button on her wrist-band control panel. A chime sounded on Jacks wrist-band where a poor man might have still worn a watch, and opened a small T-window
Jack smiled, genuinely pleased to see his wifes old friend, a sharp-nosed honey blond with dark blue eyes and small, pouty lips. "How are you?" he said, putting his arm around his wifes shoulders, and transferring Jills small image to his wall-sized T-window with a touch of a button on his wrist-band. She was wearing a pleated, bright yellow house dress in contrast to Kimberly blue denim cut-offs and a white, V-neck T-shirt.
"Oh Jack, you have to switch to channel 393."
"393? Where is that?"
"Never mind. Have you read, Doing Without, by Dr. Estelle Gidarb?"
"No, but Ive been meaning to. I hear its good."
Not for me, it isnt, Kimberly wanted to say, thinking of the sex that seemed to be missing from her sex life even when Jack made love to her. She knew nothing of the Gidarbs, much less their meaning of, "Doing Without."
"Its fabulous. Especially for parents of teen-age boys, like us. Dr. Gidarb is so, soyou have to see herand her husband. Oh! I cant tell you."
Kimberly extracted a light pen from an armrest compartment, highlighted the VOICE COMMAND option and said, "Switch to 393." She was more than ready to watch the show; anything to keep from having to look at Jills smug, proper, true blue, American Party face, a second longer.
The channel switch, overrode the signal carrying Jills image and replaced it with a full view of Sharon, Estelle, Euel and Louise. Kimberly promised herself, if Jack brought up a window-in-window of Jill, she was going to ask for a divorce.
"Is this it?" asked Jack, punching two buttons on his wrist-band, to show Jill what he and Kimberly were watching.
"Yes. Gotta go now. Bye."
"Bye Jill," said the Fleetwoods in unison.
While Jack watched and listened intently to the older woman undressing the doll, Kimberly closed her ears and fixed her eyes on the man next to her. How handsome, she thought. Jack was handsome, too, but in a boyish way. This was a man, with the dark, wavy hair and sharply chiseled features youd expect to see on the cover of a Gothic romance novel. Kimberly did, in fact, see a resemblance between him and many of the leading men illustrated on the romance novels she consumed, like vital nutrients.
Kimberly smiled to herself, enjoying the secret erotic tingle of imagining the woman who was taking the dolls pants off, doing it to the man. Slowly, enough of what the woman, who she now knew was Dr. Gidarb, was saying, seeped into her private thoughts, to inform her that the doll did represent the man. The words, "pornography," "treatment," and "procedure" jumped out at her after several repetitions each. And she heard the acronym, "STOPIT," which she knew from her association with Jill, stood for, "Society To Outlaw Pornography In Total. But none of those things fit together.
Jack withdrew his arm from his wifes shoulders and leaned forward, his eyes wide with excitement. The words that made no sense to her, clearly made abundant sense to him. She had seen him this way enough times to know it involved politics; American Party politics, and his advancement in the national organization. Nothing else animated him like that.
He placed his hand on Kimberlys thigh, as if to steady himself. This was something big all right. Something very big.
"There is no true need for the external appendage," said Dr. Gidarb, pointing to the doll. "Over half the population of human-kind does without one quite nicely."
Sharon, Louise and Euel, all laughed at the obvious truth of Dr. Gidarbs statement.
"We leave a small opening," she continued "for the normal elimination of liquid wastes. This is what it looks like...As you can see, there is nothing shocking about the procedure, as it would be if it was done in a violent or incomplete way. There are no noticeable scars. And, of course, nothing lurid about the results in any way. If there was, we certainly wouldnt have allowed our children to play with dolls like this for so many generations."
Kimberly blinked. No, she thought, I must be missing something, until the truth finally bashed her between the eyes, that she wasnt. Mr. "Romance" was. He and his wife were promoting "the procedure" as a last resort for pornography addicts and as an effective treatment for sex offenders of various kinds, particularly rapists, child molesters and smut peddlersnot necessarily in that order.
Jack pushed another button on his wristband. "Ready," said an androgynous voice from a hidden speaker in the band.
"Get me Sheffer, Lonnigan and Bertalewski on a conference link, now."
"Window display?" asked the wristband computer voice.
"Yes. Transfer the windows-in-window to home prime."
One small window opened immediately in the lower corner of the big T-window, with a square-jawed older mans face inside. Two more windows opened above it with a younger man and long-faced woman.
"Yeah, chief. What is it?" asked the woman.
"Hold on, Jen. I want to make sure the others are with us."
"Im here," said the older man in a very old voice, picking his nose in a way no stand-in ELF would be programmed to do.
"Me too," said the younger man. His expression gave no indication of whether his image in the window was an ELectronic Facsimile or not.
"Good," said Jack. "I want you to stop whatever youre doing and key in T-window channel 393. Got that?"
"Got it," said the men.
"Im way ahead of you," said the woman.
"Oh yeah. Youre the one who told me to read Dr. Gidarbs book."
"Dr. who? asked the older man."
"Thats one question nobody in America will ever ask again," said Jack, "if I have anything to say about it..."
Kimberly was not a part of her husbands conference call, so she couldnt hear what the others were saying. She didnt have to, to get the gist of it. He was gearing up for a war on smut, making sure all the key players were informed and onboard. If there was one thing Jack had a genius for, it was capitalize on a political opportunity. For anyone else, whatever opportunity the Gidarbs may have opened up, would have existed in hundreds of unrelated parts, perhaps never to be united in a workable plan of action. For Jack, all the pieces he would need were already laid out in his mind and ready to be assembled. It was now simply a matter of doing it.
Being the wife of the top law enforcement official in a state with capital punishment meant that Kimberly Fleetwood had learned to live with her husbands role in sending many men to their deaths. For all of his faults, she knew him to be an essentially honorable man who never presented the governor with a death warrant that wasnt deserved. But to her frazzled mind, the Gidarb solution to pornography seemed to be one that the state had no right to impose on anyone. She felt that she should say so, but she knew so little about it, she couldnt trust a mere feeling to the combined expertise of a doctor who had written a book and the best minds in the legal community.
From what her husband was saying, "cruel or unusual punishment," seemed to be the key to his proposal to the governor for submission to the Michigan legislature. Just as poison gas, electrocution and lethal injection passed Constitutional muster for being neither cruel nor unusual, the Gidarb procedure could, too. That much, Kimberly knew from previous conversations with Jack. Dr. Gidarb was recommending the procedure, not as a punishment for a crime, but as a cure for an illness. And Mr. Gidarb was as potent an argument as one could find against the cruelty of having it done.
"...One thing," said Jack. "I need to find out why she didn't want to talk about her volunteer prison work...Modesty? I don't think it was modesty. Get your best snoop on it right away...No, not right away. First you have to put Kim and me on the show...Sure we can...If we turn up anything damaging, we'll expose it ourselves."
Though Kimberly was able to divide her attention enough to get something out of the program and her husband, she was not prepared for Jacks suggestion that the two of them inject themselves into the show. Jack wasnt talking to her when he came up with the idea, nor did he ask her what she thought of it.
"I want Burns to convert the May T-cams of Mrs. Fleetwood and me into ELFs that we can use on that show...Yes, the come-as-you-are affair at the Engler's. Thats the look I want. But have him seat us on a couch together with something wholesome in the background. Tell him to use his imagination. If he cant have it ready by 8:45, tell him not to worry, Ill do it blind...Oh, theyll put us on, all right...Look Steve, I dont care what their usual format is, theyll put us on. And, Jen, make sure Marge orders enough copies of "Doing Without" for everyone on the staff to get one...No. Take the money out of my personal account...Steve! I dont have time to argue...Thats right...Right...Good."
The three windows-in-window closed. Jack turned to Kimberly, his eyes blazing with the animal lust of a voracious jungle beast about to pounce on its prey. "Darling," he said, "I have to do this. I hope you dont mind appearing with me. If you do mind, Ill cancel the ELFs Larry Burns is making of us. Dont know if he can get them done anyway. Its close timing, even for a shake-and-bake programmer like him."
Something drew her attention to Jacks crotch. Whether it was the subject matter of the show or the look in his eyes, Kimberly couldnt say. Her eyes bulged at the bulge she saw there as the window-in-window of the older staffer she had seen in the same place moments before, opened again. Turning her eyes back to Jacks before he shifted them to the window-in-window, she saw that he was oblivious to his own sexual arousal. How can a man have an erection and not know it? How could he not see that I saw it? Should I tell him? If the answer to her last question had been, yes, she wouldnt have known how.
"Hang on a second, Steve," said Jack, waiting for Kimberlys answer to his question.
She told him it was okay to use an ELF of her, as long as it wasnt programmed to answer questions.
Jack thanked her with an indulgent smile which told her he would pretend not to have heard her irrelevant proviso. A programmed ELF and an interactive ELF were two different things. The first could function smoothly only within the context of a set program. The second could do little more than mouth the words of a speaker, in the speakers own voice. Everybody knew that. Since the voice had to cue every facial expression, smooth transitions from one expression to another were seldom achieved and impossible to maintain for long. The dissynchronous effect was what one would expect to see at a distances in a universe where the speed of light and the speed of sound were reversed. Not even the most expensive "stand-in" ELFs on the market could overcome that technological deficiency.
"This is going to be strictly hit and run, darling; a quick shot of us together. I say a few words and close the window. Weve done it a hundred times."
Kimberly knew what kind of appearance her husband would make with the ELFs as well as she knew how the ELF at issue could and could not be programmed to respond. She was buying time to think. Thats what she did as he again conversed with his top aid. In the past, she felt she knew her straight-arrow husband well enough to do the right thingsto do right by him and herself. Now that she had witnessed his sexual arousal at the prospect of sexually mutilating God-knew-how-many men, she didnt know how to act. She did know this: He was not the man either of them had thought he was.
"Great!" said Jack. "You must have caught him in his work room...Yeah...I know youre in the dark. But Jen didnt go over your head on this. It just came up. Youll know the whole story when you see the show."
The tug-o-war in Kimberlys mind, between paying more attention to her husband or Estelle Gidarb, went back and fourth until she heard something from the doctor that pulled her across the line.
"Defenders of the X Channel," said Dr. Gidarb, "would either deny its existence or attempt to persuade you that it is accessible only to adults."
"Tell us, Dr. Gidarb," asked Sharon, "how are children getting in?"
Thats what Kimberly was waiting for. She had no idea how anybody got in. In the years it took her to learn what a dirty picture was from her adolescent friends, most of them had seen, or claimed to have seen, at least one. But far from being excited by them, they had dismissed them as "stupid," "funny" or "disgusting," and gone on to other things, while Kimberlys curiosity grew to obsessive proportions. Thanks to good ol Shelly Lathem, the bad girl of Telnack Junior High, she knew what some of those pictures looked like. But shed never seen one.
Little Shellys graphic descriptions supplied the better part of what Kimberlys poor imagination had to work with when it came to sex, given the limited extent of her personal knowledge. She used Shellys transplanted erotic visions over and over in her boring love-making session with Jack, and in the passages of her romance novels that ended in a heated kiss. It irked her to think that there were still children out there like Shelly Lathem who knew more about sex than she did. How was it that so many of them were finding it so easy to see what she had never been able to see, as a child, a teenager or an adult?
Dr. Gidarb answered Kimberlys question and Sharons at the same time. "The notion that the X Channel is available only to adults is built on a false premise. It assumes that adults do not access this filth to sell to children or to lure them into illicit sexual encounters."
"The lure thing sounded to Kimberly like a better reason to outlaw candy than porn, but she could see how pornography, obtained by adults, for any reason could end up being viewed by children for any number of reasons. It still didnt tell her how she could view it.
Almost as if responding to her thoughts, Louise said, "I can see it now. Some pervert clicks on the "BALLOT" in his program guide..."
Thats it! thought Kimberly. The eligible voter code on her bank card used to access the ballot box, was generic and anonymous, as long as it was used in the voters place of residence in his or her voting district. No wonder registration was always so high while voter participation in elections was so low. The X Channel wasnt a single channel. It was the one marked by the X in the ballot box icon through which many others, disguised as "rummage sale" ads, could be accessed. She had used the icon only once or twice a year to cast ballotsagainst the American party. The proliferation of useless merchandise like "blue lipstick, blue bubble gum and other "blue" merchandise at exorbitant prices, should have tipped her off. She should have figured it out long ago...
Jack motioned toward the open door behind him. "Would you lock that, darling. Ill be on any second now; I dont want anyone bursting in on us."
Kimberly didnt move. "Little Jack is at summer camp and its Thursday, remember."
"Oh yeah. No servants," he smiled, "We have the house to ourselves." Jack rested his hand on Kimberlys thigh again, this time as a show of affection and, perhaps, a symbolic attempt to make their ELFs more of an honest representation of themselves.
"This is it," whispered Jack.
In their telewindow, the Fleetwoods could see Louise hold her finger tips to her ear while she and Sharon exchanged looks that could only mean unexpected good news. Estelle was quoting a University of Michigan law professor who pioneered the modern anti-pornography movement, "The message in pornography," she said, "is addressed directly to the penis, delivered through an erection and taken out on women in the real world. Now, that is the case against porn in a nutshell."
She was about to expand the nutshell, when Sharon held up a hand. "Pardon me, Dr. Gidarb. As you can imagine," she said, speaking breathlessly to the camera, "our communication board has been jammed with calls. Theyve been coming in from the length and breadth of the nation. It so happens that one of those callers is Jack Fleetwood."
The Gidarbs faces lit up.
"Yes," said Sharon, "the Jack Fleetwood, the 36-year-old attorney general of Michigan who could be the next President of the United States. We know hes terribly busy, so we wont hold him. But we cant let him get away without putting in a brief appearance. Mr. Fleetwood?"
Kimberly stood to leave, as a window-in-window opened of her and Jack, dressed in satin, mint green lounging suits. They saw themselves on their T-window the way everyone in America did; cuddled together on a Kelly green couch, with framed pictures a discrete distance behind them on a wall of the last supper and a young childs drawing. An open, laptop computer sat beside a stack of papers in front of Jack, giving the impression of a man doing three things at onceone of which was relaxing with his beautiful blond wife.
The window-in-window camera zoomed in on Jack, who said, "Good evening. This is neither the time nor the place for political posturing. I want to get that straight up front. Right now Im just a family man with a 14-year-old son and the same concerns you have about the menace of smut in our society. Dr. Gidarb?"
"Yes, Mr. Fleetwood.
"I want you to know how impressed I was with your marvelous book. I ordered a copy for everyone on my staff."
Estelle Gidarb touched her hand to her chest and tilted her head modestly to one side. "Mr. Fleetwood, youre too kind."
"Not at all," said Jack, blowing his wife a kiss as she padded out of the room. "It was a thrill talking to you. The next time youre in the neighborhood, Kimberly and I would be delighted if you and Mr. Gidarb would drop in."
The Gidarbs were tripping over each others words in their acceptance of Jack Fleetwoods request, when Louise said, "Oh, darn! Your people are telling us you have to go. Maybe you can stop by some other time and stay awhile."
"Id like that," he said. He waved good-bye, and his window-in-window closed. "Dont wait up for me, darling," he called to Kimberly, before she had time to get out of earshot.
"Thats okay," she said, climbing the long, spiral staircase to their bedroom.
"I have to call a VRS," said Jack. "No telling when itll end."
"I understand." Kimberly did understand. A move to Jacks home office for a Virtual Reality Session with his top aids, was his next logical step. What a terrible waste of what could have been a wonderful toy. Kimberly didnt need a good imagination to see that. She doubted that the thought had ever crossed her husbands mind.
"Love you!" he called.
Jack didnt hear his wife reply in kind. He simply assumed she did.
He was right.
The fact that Jake was a politics junkie and a boring lover with rotten tastes in friends, didnt mean she wasnt in love with him. She knew those things about him, and married him anyway, not only to escape her mother but to live with the man she loved and a man who loved her.
Having witnessed the circumstances of her husband's last erection, she was worried. What could it mean? He often swelled like that in his sleep. All men didor so she heard. Could it have been a thing like the swelling of a womans nipples that doesnt always mean sexual arousal? She couldnt say that about hers at the moment, but the unruly brown buds did that a lot, when sex was the farthest thing from her mind...Well. No. That couldnt be true because sex was never that far from her mind. Could her eagerness to dive into the X Channel despite her fears for her husband and the chilling prospect of his alliance with the Gidarbs be a manifestation of the same moral failing?
Kimberly pondered the question as she stripped naked, snatched a light pen off the night stand and slid under the white, satin bed sheet. She knew the answer was, yes, when the horror her husband and the Gidarbs were about to unleash faded to a minor background noise as her first encounter with the X-channel neared. She made a mental note to give it more thought when she finished sampling the X Channel.
The bank card. She forgot the bank card. She flung back the sheet and got out of bed to retrieve it from her hand-bag on her long, low dresser, with its high, wide mirror. She enjoyed looking at herself in the mirror. Stealing a quick peak over her shoulder on her way back to bed, she said aloud, "Yeah, baby. Youve got a great ass."
She climbed back in bed with light pen and bank card in hand, feeling deliciously wicked. The secret pleasure was derived as much from the sinful three letter word she had spoken in her matrimonial bed-chamber, as the anticipation of all the sinful things she was about to see and hear in the window. As a God-fearing Christian, she knew she would be forgiven.
She aimed the pen at a wall which became a telewindow with a stream of amber light. Then, she aimed it at the ghosted BALLOT icon in the top button bar and brought the black-bordered box with the blue X to life. To access it, she pressed the clear plastic tip of the pen to the upper left side of her gold bank card and ran it downward until her voter registration number appeared. A pulse of light told her that the transfer of data had been completed. When she touched the icon with the light, the window filled with a Democratic Party survey questionnaire about New Economic Zone reform. Surrounding it were bouncing, glowing, expanding and exploding 3-D ads of every description.
She skipped the survey and the animated ads, shifting her eyes back and forth to the boxed ads scrolling down both sides of the window. Thats where she had seen the "blue" ads before. Now that she knew what to look for, she was frustrated by her inability to see them. Had she deciphered the wrong code? Did it change from time to time? Was there a special day or a special time of day they showed up? Did the key-in number pad on the bottom button bar have anything to do with it?
Had she stayed up all night looking for pricey "blue" merchandise, she would have found none. After a half hour of searching, she picked the only thing she saw with blue anywhere in the box; an ad for perfume with no name, sold by someone or something called Blue Monday.
A bottle of Charmé perfume replaced everything in the window, lifting Kimberlys hopes that she might be on the right track. When she saw the price, she knew it. The low, soothing voice of a lower class urban black man said, "Charmé is not for everyone. If you think its for you, Blue Mondays is da place ta shop, any daya da week."
She touched the amber light to "FORWARD," and got a message which would have turned away anyone seeking a bottle of perfume at any price. "ARE YOU SURE YOU WANT TO GO FORWARD? IF YOU SAY "YES," THE STANDARD $10.00 BROWSING FEE WILL BE CHARGED TO YOUR BANK CARD, DEDUCTIBLE WITH YOUR PURCHASE OF TWO HOUR BLOCKS OF TIME OR MORE."
Kimberlys pulse quickened at the thought of what she was going to see after twenty years of longing and going through so many baffles to reach it. She touched the "FORWARD" button bar on the bottom of the screen. Instead of raw, naked sex, she saw this:
"WARNING!!! YOU ARE ABOUT TO ACCESS AN X-RATED CHANNEL, FOR ADULTS ONLY. IF YOU ARE OFFENDED BY EXPLICIT SEXUAL MATERIAL, PLEASE BACK OUT, NOW!
Copyright © 1998 by Jasper Garrison
Contact the author: Jasper Garrison