By the Light of a CyberWorld Moon
By David M. Castlewitz
Copyright 1996 by David M. Castlewitz
Kathy McDaniel sat alone in her efficiency apartment, her aching fingers thumping the mouse next to the keyboard. The on-line waiting room’s walls shimmered with portals to other domains and virtual museums. As an actress, Kathy had performed in cyberworld commercials, danced in traditional media, and cavorted on stage in small theatres around the city; this was the first time she'd be an avatar’s mentor. Excitement crept into her fingers, and she tapped the mouse harder. She touched the rim of the online glasses perched on her ski-slope nose. In the virtual room, a wall dissolved and an amorphous cloud of gray and pink appeared.
"The meeting begins," came the command, as though from the cloud. Kathy clicked a footprints icon and proceeded into the conference room. Other characters appeared: a rabbit with the beak of a bird, a man in a turtleneck and sports coat, and a tough looking giant with big ears and a shaved head. Kathy had chosen a character that reflected her true self: a thin woman with sophisticated eyes and long blonde hair. She imagined that she glided, her body sparkling as she took her place at the table, directly across from the young man in the turtleneck.
"You've all met me," the cloud said as it drifted out of sight. "I'm disembodied today because I'm not part of what comes next." The speaker chuckled. "You're the players. It's up to you. I'm just the employer." Kathy blinked and Red Dawson's chubby face emerged as a memory. I need this job, she told herself, and tried to relax. Friends had warned her about Dawson. He was a gamesman, a conniver, a brilliant entrepreneur; and annoying as hell.
"I expect you all to be here by 10 every morning," Dawson announced. "Four hours to work on a scene. Then you're free to roam V-City with your character. Now, to begin, how about if we introduce ourselves. Kathy, you get us started."
She grinned. "Figures. I'm the newbie! Okay. Here goes. Kathy McDaniels, actress, first time training job, and not much of a netter."
"You don't subscribe to V-City?" Dawson asked.
"Actress," she said. "Synonymous with broke."
Everyone laughed. Kathy clicked the smile icon and Turtleneck Sweater smiled back with a warm and engrossing face. Kathy wondered what he looked like RL -- in real life.
Then it was his turn. "Samuel Gleason," Turtleneck announced. "Writer. You've read the book. Now you're part of the V-City experience." He cleared his throat. "I'll be advising the director."
"Who is here with you. You won't see me, however. I prefer to work that way."
The beaked character spoke next. Frank Jameson. Mentor to the minor characters. The ugly man with the big ears -- Xavier Campbell -- would train the hero of Gleason's epic.
The director spoke up. "Take the character programs now. We'll have a get-acquainted exercise. As Mr. Dawson said, you'll pick up your programs when you log on and they'll be with you the entire time you stay in V-City."
Dawson’s cloud hovered at the dark ceiling. "Good luck. I know our project will be a success. I leave you now with your director. Or is that Herr Direktor? Ha, ha."
Then he was gone.
A light shone in the corner. "Kathy McDaniels," the director said. "This is the Edith Fenstermachen character."
The online Kathy walked towards the light. As described in the book, the Edith character had blonde pigtails and weary looking eyes. Young and small, a child of a woman. Kathy extended her hand and the light wrapped itself around her virtual fingers. Nearby, Xavier Campbell absorbed the book's hero, Helmut Richter, and the ugly man with the big ears began to resemble the description of Helmut found in the book: tall, muscular, friendly face, with deep blue eyes that were cold and calculating, the eyes of a spy.
Frank Jameson became someone Kathy recognized immediately: George Fenstermachen, Edith's father.
"Just to set things up," the director said, "I'd like you to sit and talk. A coffee shop's a good setting."
The conference table disappeared. Kathy found herself sitting at a wrought iron table in a garden. Across from her, George Fenstermachen and Helmut Richter engaged in an animated discussion. Waitresses flitted back and forth, serving small cakes, carrying brightly colored pots of tea, and coffee that steamed in huge mugs with ornate handles.
"If war breaks out, what will you do?" George asked.
Helmut looked at Kathy/Edith. "I have my duty. To the Kaiser. To the Fatherland."
Kathy suppressed her laughter. She'd thought the book overly sentimental and unrealistic -- both times she read it. Now, experiencing the scene coming to life, it sounded silly and unnatural. How did this ever become a block-buster? she wondered. The story of a World War One German spy and the German-American woman he loved was good for a night or two on TV, perhaps; maybe a serial in one of those pop books; but a best-selling novel? And CD game? And TV series? And a V-City experience, too?
She shrugged away those concerns and reached for Helmut's hand. "It's my duty, too," she said out loud, remembering the scene from the book. "I'll follow you to Germany if need be Merely command me!"
"Cut!" the director screamed. "Come on, Edith. Drama, yes. Melodrama, no!"
The Helmut character laughed. Kathy grimaced RL, but on stage -- the virtual stage -- she smiled demurely when Kathy clicked the proper icon.