David Louis Edelman
MultiReal
'MultiReal' trade paperback cover

Excerpt: Lessons Learned

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8

Chapter 6

Geronimo: 22 years old, heterosexual, Caucasian, xpression board player for the Dregs of Nitro. A self-styled dissident, a philosopher, a poet, a lover. Or so his profile on the Sigh network claimed.

Jara wondered who he really was.

In the more prosaic world offline, the sullen man across the room wearing the CALL ME GERONIMO T-shirt might really be a diplomat or a black code junkie or a fugitive from the law. There was no way to tell for sure. Some sociologist had recently published a formula that purported to describe the ratio of truth to falsehood in Sigh profiles. Jara couldn’t make heads or tails of it, but apparently the formula had something to do with Fibonacci numbers.

“Geronimo” spotted her and threw her a look. Jara could feel the incandescent knife of lust twisting in her abdomen. He rose from the purple couch and began strutting towards her through the crowd.

From a distance, the resemblance was uncanny. Average height, hair sandy and slightly tousled, physique trim yet not quite muscular. Eyes a vivid sapphire blue. If only science could provide a way for Jara to have him at a distance before he opened his mouth.

“Perfection,” said Geronimo as he approached, in that incongruous half-lisp of his. “How you doin’, Cassandra?” Of course, Jara didn’t use her real name here on the Sigh; few people did. But at least she projected her own pixyish body onto the network instead of some idealized substitute, which was more than most could say.

“Towards Perfection yourself,” Jara replied, standing on tiptoes to give Geronimo a hungry hello kiss. The kiss quickly evolved into a full-on tongue-dueling affair until the pain in her toes made her withdraw.

“So you get us a room?” grunted the youth, almost shattering the illusion. “How ’bout one-a those leather ones?”

The fiefcorp analyst winced. Jara didn’t know whether this idiot was really dissident, philosopher, or poet, but one thing was certain — he definitely was not Natch. She hid her disappointment behind a coy smile. “Of course I got us a room. What, you think I’m some kind of amateur?”

Geronimo chuckled and brushed his knuckles across the side of her breast, an act that didn’t require the slightest apology or explanation to the crowd. Not on this channel, at least. Jara could feel the knife twisting inside her, uncontrollable, setting everything it touched aflame. “Awright,” mumbled Geronimo. “Let’s get moving.”

Please shut up, she thought. Please, please, please.

Jara and the boy walked arm-in-arm across the lounge, past columns of wriggling goldfish and green cushions nestled on the backs of porpoises. They saw twosomes and threesomes and moresomes of all genders and orientations flirting away the time between encounters. Jara noticed a trio of four-breasted mermaids rubbing fins. Geronimo goggled appreciatively at a woman who must have been three meters tall, locked in a passionate kiss with a man whose dangling equipment looked equal to the task. There were no fewer than three Len Bordas in the room. One of them had two heads.

They followed the data beacon around a long curved corridor, threading their way through gossiping bystanders. Geronimo was humming one of his atonal Dregs of Nitro songs. Finally, they reached a nondescript door and opened it to find an even more nondescript room. A low queen bed, a nightstand. Mirrors.

“What, you want this?” said the youth with a sneer.

“I thought I’d let you pick,” said Jara.

“Oh,” replied Geronimo, grinning goofily. “I get it. Well, lemme think for a minute…”

Don’t think too hard, Jara glowered silently. You might damage something.

Geronimo flipped through a number of exotic environments — Amazonian jungle, Arabian harem, something called “The Twelve Rings of Zarquatt” — and finally settled on a pleasure den whose every surface was coated with black leather. Jara let out a small noise of exasperation. This was exactly the same motif Geronimo had selected for their last two encounters. Jara could already tell that this afternoon’s tryst would solve nothing. That knife was wedged much too deep for a neophyte like Geronimo to reach.

The Natch look-alike was hopping on one foot, struggling to remove his pants. Jara thought about cutting her connection to the network right then and there, but decided to stay. She had paid good Vault credits for this room.

*

Jara had figured that three weeks away from Natch would cool her passion. She was wrong.

It’s the eternal paradox of love, the drudge Kristella Krodor had written recently. When he’s at arm’s length he’s too far, but when he’s in your arms he’s too near. Jara was ashamed to admit she read such tripe.

But the idea of using the Sigh as a therapeutic tool hadn’t come from Kristella Krodor. It had come from an unexpected source: Bonneth, companion to her fellow apprentice Merri.

Jara had decided to open up to Merri a few nights after the demo at Andra Pradesh. As the fiefcorp’s channel manager and resident truthteller, Merri spent hours every day in Natch’s presence too, and sexual orientation was no barrier to the entrepreneur’s charms. She would have to understand what Jara was going through, on some level. But Jara never got the chance to find out. Moments after Jara multied to her apartment, Merri rushed off to resolve some unexpected emergency with her beloved Creed Objectivv, leaving Jara and Bonneth alone.

The analyst felt as if she barely knew Merri, much less her quiet companion. But suddenly Jara found everything spilling out in one long, torturous flood. The proctor who took advantage of her, the two decades of professional frustration, the gullible years as Lucas Sentinel’s apprentice, the stabbing desire for Natch that would not go away.

Bonneth listened intently from her well-padded chair. I think I know how you feel, she said. Wanting something you just can’t have, not being able to let go. She raised her arms feebly and made a gesture at her brittle frame, twisted in what looked like a very uncomfortable position. Bonneth had Mai-Lo Syndrome, one of those rare instances of genetic engineering gone awry. The bones in her arms and legs were fragile as eggshells, beyond even the skill of bio/logics to repair.

When you’ve got multi and SeeNaRee and powered exoskeletons, it’s not such a handicap, continued Bonneth. But I’ll admit… sometimes I just have to know. Late at night, after I’ve repeated all those Dr. Plugenpatch statistics to myself a million times… I just need to know what it’s like, even for a couple of hours, and then I can go on again.

So how do you do that? Jara asked.

That’s easy, said Bonneth, with an impish smile. The Sigh.

Jara hardly knew where to start. She had taken plenty of practice laps around the shallow end of the Sigh when she was a teenager. But back then her options were limited by the boundaries of her parents’ L-PRACG: no partners over eighteen, no extreme stuff. Now suddenly she was free to explore the three hundred thousand channels running on Sigh protocols. Free to dive deep and explore the crevices and trenches, the scabrous surfaces, free to coax the hidden pearls from their shells. Most channels simply connected people of similar interests. There were other channels that specialized in every perversion humanity had dreamt up in the last hundred thousand years. Adventurous souls could dally with automated pleasure bots that had survived the long Darwinian slog through the competitive market of sexual programming. When the pleasure bots grew tiresome, there were channels that circumvented bodily mechanics altogether and delivered massive unadulterated doses of endorphins.

But how to exorcise this obsession with Natch? It wasn’t as easy as it sounded.

The Sigh was not restrained by the same limits as the multi network, so it was simple enough to plaster someone else’s face on your partner and be done with it. But while this subterfuge might suffice for the man living down the street or the faintly glimpsed woman on the tube, the illusion simply didn’t work for an intimate acquaintance. Call it a failure of technology or psychology; virtual simulacra just could not fool the discerning human brain.

Enter the Doppelgänger channel.

Jara found a series of intriguing promos featuring celebrity impostors of stars like Juan Nguyen and Jeannie Q. Christina, all with ridiculously mundane names and occupations. I’m Lester James, hoverbird repair technician, said an Angel Palmero look-alike. And I’ve been searching for you on Doppelgänger.

It was a simple system. Point the interface to the Data Sea profile of your lust object. Doppelgänger proceeds to track down his unwitting twins spread throughout human space. Each twin is presented with an invitation to meet. Given a pool of sixty billion people to choose from, the odds were high that someone would accept the invitation. Frequently that someone was looking for a person just like you, which gave the arrangement a nice symmetry. The closer the match, the higher the fee.

Jara had fired off a Vault credit authorization to Doppelgänger, along with a video of Natch at his most beautiful and solipsistic. Two days later, Doppelgänger had led her to Geronimo.

The relationship worked very nicely for a week or so. Geronimo tried to fulfill Jara’s fantasy of bedding her boss, and Jara tried to fulfill Geronimo’s fantasy of bedding… who? A neighbor, a coworker, some woman who had caught his eye in a Beijing night club? Jara didn’t know and didn’t care. This was the Sigh, after all, where mutual fulfillment was the decorum and questions were bad form.

Then that week turned into two and rounded the corner heading for three. Now, here she lay, thirty-seven minutes after her arrival in this leather SeeNaRee, and Geronimo was gone. Jara still had twenty minutes left on the account, and an additional two hours until the next fiefcorp meeting. She decided to loaf for a while.

Jara hated to chastise Bonneth for bad advice, but it was becoming pretty clear that this form of therapy just wasn’t working. There was something intensely sexual about Natch. Yet he kept that virility under such iron control that Jara could not even tap into it through fantasy. What would Natch be like if he vented his passions in the bedroom? What if there were no bio/logic fiefcorps, no Primo’s ratings, no MultiReal to distract him? Easier to imagine a bird without wings or a fish that could not swim.

The closer Jara got to possessing the fiefcorp master, the more he seemed to edge away. Achieving his lifetime goal of topping the Primo’s bio/logic investment guide should have loosened him up a little. Given him a sense of accomplishment. But instead, the entrepreneur was retreating farther and farther inside his shell.

How long would his sanity last?

It needed to last a while. Jara no longer had the consolation that this would all be over in eleven months when her apprenticeship expired. She had chosen to sign on to another apprenticeship, serving a brand-new company in a wholly untested market. Another few years wrestling with this peculiar crossbreed of loathing and lust.

Meanwhile, Horvil was out there somewhere. Sweet, innocent Horvil, who had opened up his heart on the floor of the Surina Center for Historic Appreciation while a thousand Council troops marched through the courtyard. They had managed to avoid being confined alone ever since. Jara could honestly say she had never thought of Horvil in a romantic light, and had no idea what to do. Her feelings were as easy to decipher as cuneiform.

Confused, emotionally knotted, exhausted, Jara finally logged off the Sigh and waited for the mediocrity of the real world to seep in again. There was a name for the haze of a mind switching between multi connections; why wasn’t there a word for the postcoital letdown of logging off the Sigh?

Jara sat up in bed and looked at her still-white walls. In the living room sat the pitiful arrangement of daisies she had blown an inappropriately large chunk of her fiefcorp stipend on. She arose, walked into the breakfast nook, and had the building brew her up some hot nitro.

When did you lose yourself? the analyst asked her reflection in the window.

Was it at Andra Pradesh, when Len Borda’s troops were swooping all around her? Or further back, when she had threatened to quit the fiefcorp after Natch’s little black code stunt? Maybe there wasn’t a single moment. Maybe it was a gradual eroding of self, a twenty-year process that had started long before she ever heard of Natch or Horvil. Everything that had happened in her adult life felt like one attenuated chain reaction to that moment in the hive when her proctor had settled his hand on her thigh, a few centimeters higher than propriety dictated, and Jara had tried to convince herself that she liked it there.

*

Excerpted from “MultiReal” by David Louis Edelman. Copyright © 2008 by David Louis Edelman. Reprinted by permission of Pyr, an imprint of Prometheus Books. Excerpt licensed under a Creative Commons License.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8