By the Light of a CyberWorld Moon
By David M. Castlewitz
Copyright 1996 by David M. Castlewitz
The Lucky Byte served food, drinks, and atmosphere, with virtual reality caves where couples could have sex on a deserted beach or in a crowded room; long tables with benches and laptop computers for access to a variety of public forums; and a few booths in the back where wannabe entrepreneurs could practice cutting billion dollar deals in negotiation simulations.
"Fishman," he said. "Henry Fishman." He bowed slightly, his brown hair flopping over his eyes. Young. With pointed chin, ears, cheekbones, and tiny pimples at the corners of his mouth.
People streamed from room to room, waiters and waitresses in black, butt-hugging jumpsuits, teenagers on rollerblades, moving in herds, and older denizens of the wired-set. There was no music, just the buzz of conversation.
"I don't normally go to places like this," Kathy said.
"I come here all the time. They have great sushi. Good veggies, too." He took her hand. His oily grip was loose, unsure. His dark eyes echoed his hesitation.
Kathy liked him better in the cyberworld, where they’d met the other day. He juggled for her at the cafe, and then IM’d her for a date. She refused at first, but he insisted. Telling herself that an RL date would dispel the loneliness, she relented.
A waitress shunted them along the aisle to one of the hardwood booths. Kathy sat. Fishman slid in beside her. She pointed at the seat across the table and, with a loud sigh, the boy moved away. “I saw you in Antigone. The CD version."
She gulped. "Let me guess. Classics in the Nude?" The CD had paid her rent that first year out of college. That stint was a welcomed diversion from the artsy-no-money crowd. Classics in the Nude attempted to make the Greeks, the Romantic poets, and even Shakespeare, appealing to an ever-demanding audience. Produced by a noted professor of literature from the East Coast Pavilion, the CD series got wide distribution around the world, won several awards for excellence, and was lauded as an innovative approach to classical education.
"You were thinner then," Fishman said.
"Eight years younger, too," Kathy added. "How old are you?"
"Twenty," he answered, then asked, "What are you doing now?"
"Did you see 'Tom's River Romance'? I'm doing Edith for the Companion Series at V-City."
"Geez! I hate that series. It's too expensive for what you get. Most of those characters spend more time talking about themselves than anything else."
Kathy shrugged. "I’ve never tried it."
"I bought an afternoon with Tom Sawyer. He was one scheming little brat." Fishman laughed. "We explored some cave together. He kept up this constant banter about how he could find his way out of anything." Fishman shook his head. "He was sort of spooky, too. He'd put his face right up to my character's. Weird eyes. Filled with all kinds of little graphics that just sort of whirled around in his head. I had to cut the session short."
The waitress appeared and they ordered dinner: pickled octopus, seaweed, tofu and rice.
"You're a student, aren't you?" Kathy asked.
Fishman shook his head. "A 'tweenie. I plan to go back to school next year. Actually, I'm into my third year off."
"Studying...?" She let the word hang.
He picked up the thread. "Theology. From an historical perspective. I don't intend to be a professional priest or anything. I want to write about early religions, especially the ones that never made it, like Zorasterism and Mithrasism."
Kathy watched a waiter wheel a steam table towards them. Good. Dinner. They could stop talking; she could stop struggling.
"When dinner's over, would you like to visit a cave?" Fishman asked. He reached into his jacket's inside pocket and pulled out a manila envelope. "I have a blood test kit. We can check each other out, then make love in a fish tank." He smiled at her, his eyes liquid and hopeful.
"Let's just eat. Talk. And maybe next time."
They stopped. The instructions were clear: let Edith lead the way. Don't coax. Don't suggest. Be the follower.
"I feel like I've been here many times before," Edith murmured.
"The Boulevard's my favorite place," Kathy said.
"But I'm seeing it now with my own eyes."
Inadvertently, Kathy raised her hand. Her fingers brushed the cold computer screen. Slowly, Edith moved forward, her feet barely touching the simulated cobblestones in the street. Her golden hair glistened in the sun and when a breeze shook the three-pointed leaves in the trees her locks waved about her head and ears.
Together, Edith and Karen strolled the street, stopping to gaze at store windows, to nod hello to strangers they passed, to wind their way through the crowds, past a mock-up of a sidewalk market. They threaded their way across a crowded cafe's patio and past the portals to the circus, the zoo, and the aquarium, where Edith paused to look at the fish and mermaids swimming in a tank.
"This seems oddly familiar," Edith said.
"We were here together."
"Could you feel me when you carried me?"
Kathy shook her head in real life, then clicked on the proper emoticon to signal her reply.
"I'd like to go here again," Edith said, and pointed at the fish tank. "Can we?"
Kathy had been told not to deny any request, so she clicked "nod" and led the way to the selection palette.
"You can be a fish, a mermaid, or even yourself," Kathy said, indicating the various choices. There were several kinds of fish with odd and fancy coloring to choose from.
"I've only now become me," Edith said, laughing. "I'll stick with that." She stepped onto the selection plate. Her white gown dissolved, revealing a thin, firm body with small, uplifted breasts and a narrow waist. Kathy followed, choosing for herself a body slightly fuller than her own. The wide hips and uplifted buttocks made her feel powerful as she plunged into the water and dove to the bottom of the tank.
Edith gestured and Kathy followed her into a cave, where they explored in the dark for a few minutes before shooting through a narrow opening in pursuit of a glowing stingray, which let them chase for a moment until it tired of the game and zipped off.
"I envy you," Edith said as they sat together on a lily pad. "You can have any of this. At any time."
Kathy didn't destroy her assumption.
"You have this virtual life," Edith exclaimed. "You have your real life, too! Do you actually know how lucky you are? More than that. Privileged. Yes. Privileged!"
"You wouldn't think so if you were with me last night."
"Last night?" Edith squealed the two words and turned to Kathy and grabbed her hands. The girl's face was close, so close that the eyes shone, the wrinkles at the corners of her mouth furrowed, and water dripped from the curls of hair plastered to her high forehead.
"In the real world," Kathy said, sighing, thinking of Fishman and last night's disappointing date, "you have to pick companions and they aren't always so interesting or enchanting or ... or anything." What was wrong with Fishman? she asked herself, besides his youth and fixation on having sex?
"Is that bad?" Edith wanted to know. "Picking your companions. Is that bad?"
"No," Kathy said, not sure how to explain. "But sometimes... Well, I went out with someone last night and he... he was boring."
"I suppose I'll become used to that," Edith muttered. She lowered her eyes, gazed at the water. "I understand, I'll be a companion. To the visitors."
"You've been told this?"
"Not directly," Edith said. "But I have thoughts about the future and my future seems very clear. I exist to act out my persona. People will pay to be my companion and I will be theirs. It's why I am. You must have similar feelings. You are who you are and there's a reason why."
"You actually think, don't you?"
Edith nodded. "Don't tell anyone. I'm not allowed to have these...feelings." She slipped from the lily pad and swam across the pond and to the shore, where crocodiles and snakes infested the woodland.
Out of the corner of her eye Kathy noticed the mail icon flash. She retrieved the message in her box. It was virtually wrapped in plastic and steel, with a large lock that, according to the instructions on the envelope, could be opened with a kiss.
Kathy grimaced. Only Henry Fishman, last night's bore, would bother to create a mail message like this. How could he be so enticing and intriguing online, but an awkward kid in real life?
Quickly, she clicked opened the mail message. "Everyone gets more than one chance," was written in large block letters.
No, they don't, Kathy said to herself and leaped from the lily pad and dove to the bottom of the pond, where she found Edith and swam with her to the shore.