program…and worst nightmare
Jeremy Loggins looked over the compact disk, then inserted it into
his computer drive and booted it up. The disk had come in the mail from some
outfit calling itself Virtual World, Inc. On the cover of the brochure there
was a pretty girl, scantily dressed, caressing a computer monitor and smiling
at the camera.
On the screen, the manufacturer’s logo and copyright information
flashed by, then, to the accompaniment of soft music, the same girl walked out
onto the screen and the sales pitch started.
“Tired of being alone?” she cooed. “Sick to death of relationships
that don’t work out and leave you frustrated in the end? Now there is no longer
any reason to continue the charade of love that does not gratify, marriage that
does not satisfy, and the guilt that goes with failed relationships.
Interested? Just click the continue button...and if you’re not, I’ll
Jeremy was a reclusive computer nerd, living alone in an old,
run-down house in a small town in Oklahoma. An ancient Maverick that hadn’t run
in a year sat on two flat tires in his driveway, festooned with bird crap. In
the front yard a broken lawnmower languished, surrounded by the enemy.
His income, such as it was, came from software he had written and
sold, some electronic devices he held patents on, and an occasional repair job
on someone’s computer.
Socially inept, he hadn’t had a date since his second year at Ohio
State. That one had been a disaster. He found himself more than just
interested. He reached for the mouse and clicked the ‘continue’
The woman on the screen had undergone a costume change. Before, she
had been wearing a slinky red dress and now she was done up in an orange bikini
swim suit that left little to the imagination.
“Welcome to Cyber System’s Virtual World, a total-reality
experience that will take you to the pinnacle of excitement and pleasure. My
name is Cynthia, and I’ll be your hostess during the next thirty minutes. Sit
back and relax and I’ll show you how you can fill your life with action, love,
Jeremy watched the entire presentation twice. Cynthia convinced him
that if he would just buy the necessary equipment he would be able to choose
his companion and satisfy any and all of his desires on-line at any time he
wished. They were “so sure you’ll be thrilled with our product” that there was
a thirty-day, no-questions, satisfaction guarantee.
In the end, Jeremy clicked the correct icon and entered his credit
card number. As he closed out the transaction he thought, at last, a
computer version of the love doll.
The brochure had said, “Please allow six weeks for delivery”,
Jeremy’s “kit” arrived in just under two weeks. The whistling, perky UPS man
muscled a large cardboard box out of the truck, and Jeremy signed where
After he dragged the box inside, Jeremy slit the tape and removed
sheets of bubble wrap, finding himself quite excited, sort of like when he
still lived at home with his parents and Christmas or a birthday would roll
First, he found and unwrapped a virtual-reality helmet. This was at
least something he was vaguely familiar with, having read articles about these
devices and how they were becoming the latest fad for running video games. He
looked it over, noting that it not only contained vision and hearing equipment,
but also a nose and mouthpiece.
He set that aside and burrowed further into the box. Soon he had
laid out an entire body suit of light material, intricately wired with sensors
and something called “sensation pads.” Noting that some of these pads would be
touching him in some very intimate areas, he wondered if he really wanted to
try this. If anything was to go wrong…
Jeremy found an instruction book and another compact disk and set
about learning how to use the system.
Forty minutes later, he was dressed in the suit and helmet, the
compact disk was in the drive, and he was on-line with Virtual World.
As the program started, Jeremy found himself in a softly lit
virtual room, furnished with several sofas and numerous pillows. Soft music
played, and in moments he found himself surrounded by beautiful women.
“Damn, this is cool!” he exclaimed.
The ladies introduced themselves one by one in what was obviously a
standard program lead-in, and Jeremy was amazed at how life-like they were. At
times one would brush against him, or touch his hand, and he felt those things
through the body-suit as they happened.
He could smell their perfume and see every feature of their faces
and bodies. He soon found that he could reach out and touch any part of any of
them and the computer-generated feedback made each touch and caress real. Far
from being offended by this, these ladies responded in kind to whatever he did.
He continued to experiment until a petite redhead stepped up to him
and draped her arms over his shoulders. Jeremy felt her cool fingers caress the
back of his neck. She kissed him square on the mouth, then asked, “Jeremy,
would you like to come with me for a while?”
Jeremy looked into her green eyes and then took in a freckled pug
nose and a challenging mouth. She had that tomboy look that he’d always found
Tasting her lipstick and smelling her scent, Jeremy allowed that,
yes, he’d like to go with her very much.
“My name is Tonya,” she said, leading him by the hand to a virtual
door, which she opened. They stepped into another room, a bedroom, and Tonya
closed the door. Again Tonya kissed him and Jeremy found himself returning her
kiss with enthusiasm.
“Would you like to undress me, Jeremy?” she asked.
He was sweating inside the body suit now, in spite of its light,
breathable construction. How could he refuse? She was so real.
Jeremy felt every button, zipper, and hook, as he took the lovely
Tonya out of the encumbrance of her virtual garments. Soon they were in bed
together and Jeremy found he felt a bit clumsy, not because of the virtual
reality suit, but just because he was unskilled at what they were doing. Tonya
more than made up for his lack of knowledge with her own. In the next few
hours, Jeremy learned that there was nothing Tonya would balk at, that she
would do anything he requested, without embarrassment and with evident enjoyment.
At last, completely sated, Jeremy was ready to nap, when Tonya
asked, “Hey, are you hungry?”
“Well, yeah, as a matter of fact, I’m starved.” Jeremy
Tonya hopped up and started getting dressed, saying, “Okay, c’mon,
lazybones. Let’s go eat.”
A computer program that wants to take me to dinner, Jeremy mused. Now, this was really different.
Tonya led Jeremy down virtual streets in a clean, beautiful city
until they came to a little Italian restaurant. At the door, they were met by
the owner and taken to a cozy corner table. Dark wood and table candles
enhanced the intimate atmosphere.
A tall waiter brought a wine list, and soon they were enjoying a
sumptuous meal. Tonya encouraged conversation by getting him started talking
about himself. Throughout the meal, she positively sparkled, and Jeremy was
sure he’d never had a better time.
When they were finished, Jeremy paid for their meal with a virtual
credit card. Tonya asked what he’d like to do next.
“I don’t have any idea, really,” Jeremy replied. “Maybe
think of something you’d like to do.”
Tonya smiled and stepped closer, kissing him on the lips. Then she
whispered in his ear, “Oh, don’t worry Jeremy. I’ve always got ideas.”
The huge, gleaming Harley throbbed and vibrated between Jeremy’s
legs. His feet buzzed on the footboards and his hands tingled. Behind him,
Tonya hung on, her arms wrapped tightly around his waist, as the engine roared
and the wind whipped their hair. Her voice in his ear urged him on, telling him
to go faster, faster.
They wound through mountains on two-lane blacktop at speeds that
were exhilarating and insane, the speedometer seldom showing below ninety, the
exhaust note of the incredible machine bouncing and reverberating off sheer
rock walls beside the road. Jeremy smelled pine trees and hot oil, tire rubber
They came out at last onto level ground and the landscape abruptly
turned to desert. Tonya urged him on, and sometimes pointed the way. He kept
asking where they were going, but she said it was a surprise.
Soon, they came to a military gate, with a sentry who saluted and
made them sign in; then they rolled onto a concrete apron in front of a giant
hangar and Jeremy parked the motorcycle, catching glimpses of himself in the
multiple glass panes of the hangar doors.
He was no longer small and nerdy-looking. Gone were the glasses and
the plain white shirt with the pocket protector full of pens. In the virtual
world his reflection was that of a tall, tanned, muscular man, wearing a tank
top and tight jeans. A tattoo showed on one shoulder and his long hair was
pulled back in a ponytail.
A white-shirted engineer carrying a clipboard approached and said, “Good
morning, sir. Your plane’s all ready. They’re just rolling it out now.” He
turned and pointed to the hangar, where now the doors were open and a crew was
rolling out an experimental jet. “Rockwell X-19” was emblazoned in red on the
polished metal of the fuselage, and painted just below the canopy rail Jeremy
could see the words, “Jeremy Loggins, Test Pilot”.
“But...but, I don’t know how to fly...” Jeremy
From his side, Tonya snuggled against him and said, “You couldn’t
ride a motorcycle either, but you got us here just fine, didn’t you?”
Jeremy approached the plane and looked it over, as the ground crew
was rolling portable steps and a start-cart into place. He reached up and
patted the leading edge of a swept wing and felt cool, hard metal under his
The engineer brought him a G-suit, and soon he was dressed for his
flight and they were helping him into the cockpit. Once he was seated and
strapped in, the ground crew took away the steps and signaled him to start
He was looking the panel over, wondering what to do, when a soft,
female voice in his headset began to guide him to the proper switches and
levers. The voice of the plane took him through the startup procedure, and he
moved the throttles to idle. In his headphones he heard the tower call him and
clear him to taxi to the active runway.
When he arrived at the active, they cleared him for takeoff and
wished him luck. Jeremy pushed the throttles to full military and lit the
afterburners. The acceleration rammed him back into his seat, pinning him there
as the virtual plane gathered speed and lifted clear of the runway.
“Gear up, Jeremy,” the airplane said in his ear, and he found
gear lever and raised it, watching the panel display change to gear-up
“Keep an eye on your fuel, and let’s have fun,” the voice
Jeremy proceeded to take the plane through its paces, feeling G-forces as he
turned, hearing pumps whine and valves thump and bang as they activated, and
listening to radio traffic.
Suddenly, red streaks of tracer rounds flew by the canopy, and
another jet shot past and began a turn. The voice in his ear said, “Enemy
aircraft, Jeremy. You’re unarmed. You’ll have to outfly him.”
“Avast there, ya thievin’ bahstards!” Jeremy shouted,
cutlass and stomping his wooden leg. Tonya was at his side, all done up in her
wench outfit, corset lacing barely holding in her breasts. “Lay aloft there,
and tighten the bloody mains’l, or we’ll never catch them scurvy rats! Roll up
the chaser cannon an’ give ‘em a shot ‘cross their bows! Yarrr!”
The pirate ship “Bloody Jack” was just off the Barbary Coast,
pursuit of yet another victim, and tonight there would be much wenching and
drinking as they split up the booty. Jeremy loved being a pirate. He relished
the smell of the sea and the creaking of taut lines and the Jolly Roger
snapping in a good breeze. Sometimes he would wear an eye patch, and once he
even had a parrot named Mike.
The sun glared down on the near-whiteness of the dusty street. At
the far end, against the backdrop of a white church, the Barton Brothers stood,
defiantly staring at Jeremy. He glanced down at his Deputy’s star and boots and
the two Colt Peacemakers in tie-down holsters, and took a deep breath. Saving
the town was all up to him now, since the Bartons had killed the sheriff. Over
in the Longbranch, Miss Tonya and the others waited to see if he would return.
He glanced up past the brim of his white Stetson at the angle of the sun. High
noon. He flexed his hands in their black leather gloves and started his walk,
spurs dancing and jingling, all thoughts of computers and his previous
existence in the real world gone from his mind.
Lieutenant Jake Roland was the investigating officer. He arrived at
the old, dilapidated house about twenty minutes after the call was first
broadcast. He greeted the beat cop on the front porch, who was keeping
reporters and the curious at bay, and stepped inside to the smell of
putrefaction. The body had not been touched.
A lab investigator offered him a paper mask and a jar of
Mentholatum, and he took them gratefully, putting a dab of the smelly ointment
inside the mask to kill the odor of death.
The deceased, one Jeremy Loggins, white male, thirty, was seated in
a chair before a computer. He was wearing some type of tight-fitting suit and a
complicated helmet. He had been dead long enough that his remains had
mummified. Lieutenant Roland ordered the remains removed intact, leaving the
suit and helmet to be removed by the medical examiner.
Four days later, Lieutenant Roland returned to the old house with
the virtual reality helmet and suit. They had been thoroughly cleaned and
disinfected by the medical people; he had been assured they were safe to use.
Roland broke the seal on the front door and entered the
explosively hot interior of the house. It still smelled of death. He opened
several windows to air the place out, then examined the computer, noting that
its drive was still running and that nothing had been disturbed.
The medical examiner had determined that Jeremy Loggins had died of
starvation and dehydration. Further investigation had revealed that his bank
account had been bled of every red cent. Lieutenant Roland badly needed to know
why anyone would sit at a computer and let those things happen.
He undressed and put on the suit, feeling faintly ridiculous, then
carefully placed the helmet on his head and plugged in the leads. He sat in a
kitchen chair, to avoid using the death chair, which had not been cleaned.
He hit the “enter” key and sat back as the program started.
“Damn! This is cool!” he muttered. Then all was still.
Crist, firstname.lastname@example.org, of Wichita,
Kansas, wrote “The Big
Well” and “Virtuality” for BP #75 (+ “Gift of the Anasazi” for BP #73, “The
Weeping Man” for BP #72, “Pebbles” for BP #71, “The Diner” for BP #67, “New
Glasses” for BP #61, “Ones and Zeros” for BP #50, and the novelette Joshua)
and has edited BP for many
years, continuing as Editor Emeritus, then Coeditor/Webmaster. Widely
published, especially in Hardboiled
and on Yellow Mama, he also has four
chapbooks for sale in Kindle format on
Amazon.com, Dreaming of Mirages, The
Gazing Ball, Joshua, and Groaning for
Burial, his latest zombie e-fiction.