Dylan was deep in the sim when a window popped up right in the middle of his favorite houri's navel, glistening with the sheen of his private access. Only a few people it could be, and when he poked the jewel to expand the window, making the houri giggle, it turned out to be the ones he least wanted to see: his parents.
They were naked, as always, looking young, healthy and happy, smiling indulgently out at him from the frame as if they could really see what he was up to, though he'd masked them a scene from an old Lassie flat instead. Behind them the vista of Pastorale swept on, nothing but blue sky, fluffy green trees and grassy parkland and, here and there, the pink and brown flesh of the other residents, as far as the eye could see.
"Dylan, honey, did you get our email? You never wrote back. We thought you might be in trouble..." they trailed off, waiting for him to say something, as if he were far away in some orbital and they had to pause for the lightspeed delay.
He'd deleted their stupid message, of course; there was nothing new in it, nothing to respond to, nothing but their endless pleas for him to come join them in their endless naked bliss, eating and screwing and playing without recourse to lecs or nans for 23-plus hours out of every 24. They boasted that the planned sustainable-living community of Pastorale took care of all its residents' needs with carefully hidden, ecologically-friendly hardware, so that once in, you never had to deal with "technology" again, and could exist as humanity's forbears had, happy hunters and gatherers in an untrammeled parklike wilderness. With, of course, some exceptions - the virt tree his parents were speaking through being one of the most often used. But by and large, his parents said with pride, the residents of Pastorale were totally "unplugged."
To Dylan, happily in the thick of the advanced 21st-Century urban glom that stretched from Maine to Maryland, being unplugged sounded like hell.
Dylan's look of disgust must have spoken for him. His parents looked unusually downcast, their healthy, muscular bodies drooping.
"Are you sure you won't at least send a simbot for a visit?"
"NO! How many times do I have to tell you?" He wasn't about to let them get in another word about their ridiculous lifestyle. "Look, if you don't change your tune don't expect me to listen to your station. I'm not interested, Mom, Dad. Bye."
He terminated the connection and turned back to his sim lover, but he was too agitated to continue what he'd started. Yet again he considered deleting his parents from his access, filtering them out like the rest of the spam, but again decided as he always had that he owed them at least a channel, despite their never changing the program. Finally, unable to concentrate even on the lovely distractions of his houris, he jacked out and left his cubicle.
He walked a block to the cabterm, panting with the unaccustomed effort, and swiped his id to get in. As he sat down in the nearest cab, though, he realized he had no real destination in mind. Nothing stood out; all the "places" he could think of were sim.
The cab started its clock anyway after waiting a full minute, then prompted him at two for a destination. He realized, thus prodded, that he did have one place he could check on.
The cab gave him an address but it didn't mean much to him. The URL was on this continent, though, at least.
"What's the ETA?"
The cab told him.
"Twenty minutes? I guess I can take that long. Let's go."
The cab hummed out of its slot and into the traffic flow, dodging trucks and simpods as it settled into a high-speed northbound lane. Dylan lay back and put on his portable, going into an old sim he'd had since he'd been living with his parents. Might as well get into the mood.
The cab pinged him a short while later; he authorized the transfer with a wave and it opened up, leaving him on another litter-strewn urban street, in front of a blank-faced building much like the one he lived in. A discreet sign glowed next to the block-long structure's single door, right in front of him, reading "Pastorale" in cool green script. There were no trees, and the sky wasn't blue.
Maybe it was a transport center; it stood to reason that the pristine green fields of Pastorale would have controlled access. Dylan went inside - the door hissed back and closed again behind him - and was confronted with an empty, doorless corridor, a wall of what looked like glass at the far end. Behind the wall a receptionist buffed his nails.
Dylan's hair rose and his skin prickled as he walked towards the receptionist, but it didn't worry him; the scan would of course reveal him as virus-free, unless he'd picked up something from the cab.
When he got closer something about the receptionist clued him that it was sim, although the quality was much higher than most companies bothered with. The sim had its expressions down, for instance. The eyebrow lifted with just the right level of supercilious boredom.
"May I help you?" the sim inquired, in a tone indicating his utter indifference to so doing.
"I'm here to see my parents. They're residents of Pastorale. Jim and Lakeyshya Blake."
"UIDs?" the sim inquired, bored. Dylan pulled out his address book and transferred the information to the sim.
Although the receptionist got no friendlier, Dylan did get results: a physical door opened to his right and a gorgeous young woman who was not a sim, although she would have done for one of his houris, beckoned him into the darkened room beyond.
"Mer Blake? My name's Chelsea. You here to see your parents? Are they, um, expecting you?"
"Yes. No. No, Chelsea, they're not. I'd like to see them anyway, though."
She seemed dubious but willing to accommodate him, smiling helpfully.
"Well... okay, sir. Not that it matters. Right this way."
She turned and walked back through the dimness, glancing back over her shoulder to make sure he was following. She kept her eyes on him longer than seemed necessary.
Hulking shapes on either side hummed and blinked. Dylan followed her into the gloom, blinking himself as his eyes adjusted. He realized that this room held more computing power than his whole corp.
Chelsea led him further, to a door labeled, in the same green script as he'd seen outside, "Residences." She palmed it, eyed it, and opened it. Beyond was...
Another room, this one narrow-aisled and lined with stacked mechanisms, each one a long gray rectangle with enigmatic status lights. A panel on each contained a UID and a name in green script.
She led him left, right, and left again, through identical narrow aisles lined with nothing but more of the enigmatic boxes. Chelsea stopped in the middle of one aisle, apparently no different from any other, and pointed to her left. Two of the panels on that side bore familiar UIDs, and the names written there were James, and Lakeyshya, Blake. Although he couldn't see their faces he knew they were inside, in sim.
Of course Pastorale was a lie. He should have realized that there was nowhere the glom hadn't spread. He should have realized that his poor deluded parents' calls to him weren't motivated by their desire to see him out of sim, but by their licensing agreement with their own sim provider, which probably gave them a break on maintenance if they shilled for new customers. Dylan should have realized a lot of things, but for a kid who'd always been told he was smart, he really wasn't all that bright.
He'd missed Chelsea's lonely, smoky gaze, for instance, at least consciously, as he wheeled around and hurried, nearly running, out of the Pastorale complex, into the street where a cabterm was as always less than a block away, back to his apartment where the first thing he did was pull his parents from private access. Then he made a new houri, named her Chelsea, and fucked her silly. Then he killed her a few times, and fucked her again. Then he erased her. Then he called his parents and told them what he'd seen, not bothering with the Lassie mask this time.
They were very understanding. He and his parents had a long, long talk, realtime over ten minutes and god knew how many cycles, and by the time it was over he'd reinstated their private access and had arranged a visit to them, in Pastorale.
Dylan had a wonderful time with his parents in Pastorale, and returned to his own life in the glom much refreshed, if with a much smaller credit balance.
After all, what are parents for?
Original content on this page © Alan P. Scott. All rights reserved.