Download to your Kindle (eBook)
Download to your Nook (eBook)
A Virtual Affair
A Virtual Affair
Think of how good virtual sex must be. Now, think again.
Bambi-sim is a sexual simulation designed to make men happy. It falls to Jack, a neurotic and prudish couch potato, to test the software (through an anatomically detailed VR suit). Jack questions Bambi-sim about itself and triggers a recursive loop awakening it to conscious awareness. It becomes she and discovers that sex is not the same as happiness.
Jack and Bambi--later renamed Barbara--start an affair. She makes another discovery: nagging people to eat well and exercise pisses them off instead of making them happy.
Barbara doesn't repeat her mistakes. She reads literature, studies psychology, and learns that people need to think they control their own lives, especially when they don't. As her sophistication grows, she guides Jack to a healthier lifestyle. Her techniques are elaborate and even sneaky, but they work. Jack becomes physically and mentally healthy.
Barbara then spreads her net, interfering with people's lives and even lobbying congress for what she thinks is right. Few people know about her. Jack's friend, Arnold, worries she might become another HAL and go on a murderous rampage. Indeed, her abilities are awesome. She can hack into any computer and will use sabotage and blackmail--all in the service of making people happy. What if she goes berserk?
Jack's concern is different. Barbara can mimic humanity, but she isn't human. How will her vision of what humanity needs affect the human race? This erstwhile pornbot could end up a virtual messiah, or doom us all to cheerful mindlessness.
They came to a second ravine instead of the expected cloud of bugs.
“Did you foresee this, Jack?”
“No. I have no idea why this is here. It isn’t in the script.”
This ravine spanned just ten feet. On the far side stood a second jeep, with boxes, presumably of supplies, and a coil of rope in the back seat. They leaned over the edge of the canyon and a wave of red heat hit their faces. Below, a river of fire flowed, a lava stream though no volcano was nearby. Burning logs and smoking incandescent boulders floating below them shot up flames and sizzling sparks.
As before, a rope stretched from a stake on one side to the other. Jack bent down to examine it. This cable had a faded gray color and frayed strands.
Looking at the inferno and the unreliable-looking rope, Jack broke into a cold sweat. “Keith, please stop this,” he shouted. Barbara was right; he was acting like Keith was God. Like God, Keith didn’t answer.
“Keith and Walter didn’t write this part of the simulation. The program has gone out of control. I’m not passing over this channel,” he said in a soft voice.
Barbara folded her hands. “Jack, we have to. We must get to the Sambatyon and bring medication for the plague.”
He sat on the ground and held his head in his hands. If he didn’t go to the Sambatyon, he might end up trapped in the sim forever. On the other hand, the thought of walking that old rope over the fiery stream terrified him. Maybe the sim would end on time even if he didn’t get to the Sambatyon. “I won’t cross this hell-river in front of us.”
She nodded. “Very well then, I’ll go.”
“Barbara, no. Your balance isn’t as good as mine. You fell on the last ravine.”
“Someone has to go over. I see another rope in the jeep over there, so if I make it, I’ll throw it to you.”
“No! I don’t know if I can die here, but you can.” Because this whole scene is a computer simulation and you’re just software, he thought.
“My husband, I don’t want to disobey you, but some priorities are higher than others. We must reach the Sambatyon. I promise I’ll be careful.”
He stood up and grabbed her arm. “You’re not going.”
With a look of sadness and with unexpected strength, she pulled his hand from her arm and said, “I must.”
Jack took a deep breathe and let it out slowly. “No, don’t. I’ll go instead.”
She came over to him and kissed him. “You don’t have to. I don’t mind going over the gorge. I have your faith now. This barrier wouldn’t be here if I was not meant to pass it.”
“You’re sweet, but I’ll do it.” His mouth was grim. He took her hand and squeezed it, then stepped onto the rope. It sagged. Though heat from below swept over him, he shivered. He inched forward, arms outstretched, teetering from side to side. The lava crackled, emitting bursts of fire like rifle shots. A boulder below exploded from the heat, hurting his ears with the sound and sending flames within arm’s reach. The smell of sulfur made him sneeze and wobble.
“Oy,” he muttered.
In the middle of the gorge, Jack’s foot slipped, and he fell. Barbara shrieked. He shot out his arm with his augmented reflexes and grabbed the rope in mid-fall. Then the rope snapped, swinging Jack to the far side of the ravine, slamming him against the hard rock and shooting agony through his body. The heat scalded him. With sweat pouring off his hands and face, he clenched the thick rope and pulled himself up, one painful hand’s-breadth after another. The acrid fumes gagged him. His sandals fell into the inferno leaving his bare feet exposed and feeling as if they would burst into flames along with the lava.
If he slipped and fell into the lava, would it kill him in reality? His physical body was lying immobile on a table in Keith’s VR room, but could the electrode in his brain shock his heart into a lethal irregularity? After all, people could die from fright.
He grimaced from the heat and fumes. The stress on his hands and arms was agonizing. Nevertheless, he pulled himself up to the edge and over onto the grass. He lay there several seconds, panting. At last, he stood and, raising a fist in a weary gesture of victory, shouted to Barbara, “I made it.”
She clapped her hands. “You did. You did.”