Doug Tierney is the alter
ego of an SF writer from Boston. This
story appeared in the Best American Erotics
1996 anthology by Simon
& Schuster in August and was
published in Circlet
Press' 1995 anthology
Title graphic by Lucy A. Snyder.
is designed and edited by Lucy A. Snyder. If you spot any errors, or if you have any comments,
please contact her at email@example.com.
All materials copyright 1996-1997 by their respective
creators. No stories, articles, poems or images from this webzine may be
posted or published without the written consent of their creator(s).
"Hey, wirehead, wake up." Jack Bolander
felt the vibrations
through the floor as his roommate pounded on the bedroom door. The
sunrise coming through his window turned the yellow painted-over
wallpaper a sick orange color, the color inside his head when he wired
in without any software in the 'Face. Ron pounded the door harder.
"You're going to be late for work again, asshole. If you get fired, I'm
kicking you out in the street."
"Yeah, yeah, I'm up." Bo had been lying awake for a while on
his bare mattress, just staring at the water-damaged ceiling, drawing
pictures with the rusty brown splotches, and trying to forget his
dreams. Unconsciously, he stroked the inside of his left thigh, but he
stopped when Ron kicked the door again. "I'll be out in a minute."
"I'm leaving in two minutes, with or without you."
"I said I'm coming." He dressed without looking down at his
body, without glancing down at the lacework of shrapnel scars that ran
from his right leg, across his crotch, to his left hip. He stuffed the
'Face and wires into his rucksack along with a couple disks before he
pulled on his boots and his field jacket. He didn't bother to tie the
boots; he'd do that in the car. Stepping out of his room felt like
stepping into someone else's house. Ron had furniture and houseplants
and cats. Bo had a mattress on the floor, piles of clothes, and milk
crates of software. Sometimes he slept in the closet when he couldn't
stop dreaming about the war
In the car, Bo pulled out the 'Face and wired the first disk he
pulled from his bag without looking at the title.
Do you want me? The woman, a brunette with huge conical
that defied gravity, appeared where the dashboard had been a moment
before. She gave Bo a heavy-lidded look of lust with her wide brown
eyes. Through her left nipple, Bo saw the hubcap of a passing truck.
He popped out the disk and saw that it was a piece of AIC barterware
he'd picked up in trade a few days before. Cheap, low format,
look-but-no-touch kind of thing, even slightly transparent.
Masturbation material, if you kept the lights down low.
For the second disk, he made sure he picked his only MASIC
tri-disk. Full-sensory including tactile, capable of carrying on a
conversation, it remembered you from one session to the next. The
sim--called "Carson", for Kit, not Johnny--lived on a thick
black-and-green MASIC wafer chip sandwiched between magneto-optical
disks. The startup reminded him of the prairie, the sound of wind in
the grass and the smell of rich black coffee and dirt. Across the
bottom of his vision, the 'Face captioned in bright red script:
Warning: License period expired. Three (3) days remaining in
renewal window. Procede at your own risk? [n]
He chose to go ahead.
had gotten the Kit Carson sim free with the 'Face, but like everything,
it's only free until you're hooked. The renewal would cost most of his
savings, and he'd planned something else for the money.
Hey, pardner. You got an upgrade code for me? Kit
into existence in the back seat of the Saab, dressed in red plaid and
dusty chaps. He smelled of gunpowder and horse, chewing tobacco and
leather. Kit slapped Bo on the shoulder, a warm, friendly gesture
they'd both grown accustomed to.
"No, I guess not. I just thought you might want to bullshit for
a while," Bo offered. Ron sat in the driver seat, oblivious to the
silent conversation taking place beside him. Bo turned to see Kit
better, and the sim shuddered when Bo jerked the power cord between the
'Face and the battery pack. "Heading to work, and the yup's not
Well, ol' pal, I'd like to stay and talk. Kit flickered, and
suddenly he wore a business suit and tie. But as you know, it's
the law to access unlicensed MASIC media. He blinked back into his
chaps and cowboy hat. So until you get off your cheap ass and pay the
renewal fee, I've got nothing to say to you, low-down, software-rustling
loser. He flicked Bo's ear with his finger, an electric shock that ran
down his neck to the shoulder. Cheapskate son of a bitch, pay for your
software. Kit's fist almost connected with Bo's jaw before he
the sim out without powering down. The cowboy dissolved with a squeal,
and Bo tossed the disk out the window.
"What was that?" Ron snapped, looking back.
"Bad disk," Bo said and rolled the window back up. He
considered throwing the AIC vixen after the MASIC hombre. Then he
thought about how short he was on licensed softsoft, and decided against
it. He knew where he could get a black box to defeat license
protection, but if he had that kind of money, he'd go ahead and buy the
house and the Ferrari instead.
Ron dropped him off at the gate of the auto plant, where he
worked for just above the minimum outrage, running a robot welder. His
workstation sat like a slick green throne in the middle of a scrubbed
concrete assembly line floor. The whole building echoed with its own
between-shifts silence while Bo inserted the manipulator probe like an
IV into the socket in his right arm and keyed the machine to life with
the magnetic tattoo on his thumb. The work was on the level of
autonomic, barely a conscious effort in the whole process, just a
well-practiced dance of fingers flexing, pointing, gripping, rolling,
until all the parts were fixed together. Unable to read or wire up
while working, he'd once tried masturbating and had arcwelded the trunk
lids shut on three sedans by mistake. He could only sit and doze and
wait out the shift, gripping a soft rubber ball in the working hand.
They passed out paychecks at the end of the shift, and Bo wired
up to check his bank balance. With the paycheck, and minus his rent, he
finally had enough. Jack Bolander went downtown to find himself a date.
Not just any woman, though. He had someone special in mind.
He'd saved up his money for months, socking away spare change,
skipping meals whenever the gnawing in his gut let up enough that the
cigarettes would get him through. The last several weeks, she was all
he'd lived for. He rode the bus into the growing Boston gloom, knowing
he'd finally have her soon. The excitement of it was an electric pulse
down the inside of his thigh all the way to the knee. When he noticed
he was tapping his foot constantly, he tried to stop, tried to be cool,
but it didn't last.
The dark seemed to flow up around the windows of the sick
and stained white bus as the driver pushed his way through traffic to
the core of the city. The dark seeped up from the sewers, slicking the
sides of the glass and concrete towers, turning the streets into a
sodium-lamplit tunnel. The bus hit a pothole so hard the windows
jarred, and Bo nearly fell off his seat.
"Fuckin' streets," the driver muttered. "As much money as this
city makes offa' parking tickets, you'd think they could repave this
place once in a while." He hit another crater, so hard it could only
have been intentional. "Like fuckin' Beirut."
"It's more like Goradze." A suit next to Bo spoke, a comment
meant to open a conversation.
"Before or after the Ukes carpet bombed it?" he asked. The
other man either missed or ignored his sarcasm. Bo checked the guy
over. Between the euro-styled hair and the entrepenurial smile, he
didn't know which he hated more. Bo decided he hated the smile.
"During," he said. The man pulled back his mop of blond hair
and revealed a teardrop-shaped scar running from the corner of his left
eye back up over his ear. He'd had an ocular enhancement removed.
Another wired up vet. "Forward observer."
"Three-thirty-second mobile artillery," Bo replied. He peeled
back his sleeve, a ritual showing of scars. "Gunner. Still wired. You
probably called in fire for us."
"Many times. That was the shit, wasn't it?" He shook his head.
The bus's brakes squealed a drunked scream Bo felt in the base of his
spine. The man pulled out a business card and passed it to him. "I'm
Scott Dostoli. Listen, I'm starting up a consulting firm with a couple
other wired vets. The pay isn't great, but it's better than that
workfare bullshit the VA keeps pushing."
"It beats jacking off a robot all day."
"Without a doubt," he said and stood up. "I get off here. Give
me a call, okay?"
"You got it." Bo smiled and threw him a lazy salute. When the
suit stepped off the bus, Bo threw the card on the floor and went back
to watching out the windows. "Fuckin' Spyglass Johnnies," he muttered.
Several minutes later, the bus turned onto Essex Street.
"This is my stop," Bo said. When the bus didn't slow down, he
yelled, "Hey, asshole, this is my stop." He stood up, catching himself
on the worn aluminum pole as the bus swerved to the curb. The brakes
sounded even worse up front, grinding metal on metal. Bo shouldered his
green canvas rucksack and brushed his greasy brown hair from his face.
"Ring the fuckin' bell next time." The driver cranked the door
open and yelled, "Essex Street! Change here for the Orange line."
Essex stank of rotting fish and urine in the gutters. Bo had
forgotten how bad it could be in July. The summer heat blew up the
alleys from the South End to mingle with the thick brown smell of the
Chinatown dumpsters, the bready reek of stale beer, and the Combat
Zone's scent of lust and cigarette ash. Bolander breathed in short,
tight breaths through his mouth as he shuffled down the street, trying
to look as if he were going somewhere else, shoulders hunched, weaving
between refuse, trying without success not to make eye contact with the
dealers and junkies haunting the corners.
"Hey, my man, you look like you're after a date." The pimp
stood a head shorter than Bolander, but his arms were thicker, his chest
broader. Muscle didn't mean much on the streets anymore, not when any
punk or junkie could afford a gat or a taser, but it never hurt to look
the part of the tough. He wore a tight black Bruins T-shirt and a black
Raiders cap, and he smelled like cheap musk cologne. "Got a nice Asian
girl, big ol' tits, just waiting for you. Guarantee you'll like her."
"Not interested." He tried to push past the pimp or to outpace
him, but the man stayed with him, shouldering him toward the plate glass
door of a cheap hotel with red and gold Chinese screens in the lobby.
The sign over the desk advertised hourly rates.
"You like a white girl, izat it? Stick to yo' own kind?" He
angled so he was chest-to-chest with Bo, backing him toward the doors
once again. As Bolander spun right, away from the hotel, away from the
pimp, the greasy yellow light of the streetlamp glinted orange off the
metal stud on the back of his head, between his brown hair and the gray
collar of his fatigue shirt. The pimp saw the wire port, and Bo saw the
pimp seeing him. "Oh, so that's how you play. Hey, I can set you up
with some softsoft, good shit, straight from Japan."
"Not interested. Back off." Something in Bo's voice, a hot
edge, like bile in the back of the throat, made the pimp take several
steps back, hands raised, his pale palms ghostly and disembodied in the
shadows and uncertain light.
"Hey, wirehead. You just gotta say so." He stepped back a few
more paces before turning his back to Bolander. "You a wire freak," he
muttered, still loud enough to hear. "Don't fuck wit' no wire freaks."
Bo pulled his collar up over his port and covered the rest of
the distance to the shop he wanted in strides lengthened both by
adrenaline and by anticipation. He only glanced around once to make
sure no one was watching when he ducked through the door of Abbe's
As far as it went, the Cellar was about the norm for the Zone,
the usual stacks of porno movies and erotic magazines in their stiff
shrink-wrapped bags, glass display cases of adult toys of every
improbable shape and size, a lot of B&D leather and masks, as the
store's name would imply. Unlike the other places on the street,
though, it was a little darker, quieter. It had more atmosphere, and
their prices kept the lowlifes out. Instead of being a poorly lit
supermarket for human lusts, they catered to the desires, the fantasies.
Their clientele were businessmen on their way home to someone, picking
up a gadget or a piece of silk that would repaint the faded colors of a
lover's smile and restore the sharp-edged, naughty gleam in a wife's
eyes, the look that used to say, "my parents are going to be out all
night...I'm so glad you stopped by." Abbe's also took pride in being on
the cutting edge of sex. Softsoft, ROMdolls, network services.
Bo didn't bother to sift through the collections of
paraphernalia in the front. He didn't even consider the bulletin board
where swingers posted their parties. What he wanted--who he wanted--
in the back room, waiting, sleeping, ready to wake up to his gently
insistent kiss on the back of her neck. Maybe she'd been waiting as
long for him as he had been for her. The further back he went, the less
the Cellar looked like a shop. It came to resemble a basement or a
lonesome middle class attic full of boxed history and old thoughts,
faded and threadbare as the clothes that hang in the back of a closet.
The leather harnesses and silk bonds didn't glare with the orange and
blue scanner-coded tags like they did up front. Some didn't even have
tags at all, hanging like personal mementos in the owner's den.
It was hotter in the back, where the air conditioner didn't
quite reach. Bo shifted his pack from one shoulder to the other as he
shrugged out of his mottled gray and black field jacket. He knotted the
sleeves around his waist, feeling self-conscious of the hardware and of
his small tank-gunner's frame. He felt bigger with the jacket on.
"Help you find something?" Abbe came out of the store room, a
can of diet something in his hand. He was a bit shorter than Bo, about
five and a half feet, close to two hundred pounds, give or take, balding
on top but he made up for it with facial hair. He wore a white silk
bowling shirt with red trim and sweat stains under the arms. His name
was embroidered in red over the pocket, and somehow, he smelled clean.
Not clean like showered, or clean like the Boston air after a summer
thunderstorm when the sun finally comes out. It was clean like
skinny-dipping in an icy spring-fed pond in the hills. His smell made
Bo comfortable and took the nervous edge off their conversation.
"I've got something particular in mind."
"Okay, that's a good place to start." Abbe dragged a wobbly
barstool from behind the curtain and offered it to Bo. When he
declined, Abbe grabbed a magazine from the shelf and tossed it to the
floor to prop up the short leg. "What exactly is it you'd like, and
we'll see if we can hook you up." He struggled up onto the chair, still
not quite on eye level with Bo.
"I'm looking for a girl." Bo was surprised to realize that he
was embarrassed. He'd been chewing his lip, and his voice caught like
dust in his throat. "I'm looking for a particular girl."
"You look like a smart kid," Abbe said. "You go to Tech?"
"No," Bo said, looking around at the low glass cases that lined
the walls. Somewhere, in there, she was waiting for him. "I'm not in
school anymore." He wondered if he should really be so nervous. His
knees felt warm and weak. "She's on MASIC format."
"Tri-disk. I figured you for the high-end type. That's
Mil-Spec hardware, isn't it. Not that cheap Japanese entertainment-only
shit. Hold on, Colonel." Abbe leaned back through the door to the back
room and called to someone named Janet. Bo couldn't hear her reply, but
her voice was like speaker feedback. "Just get out here and help this
boy. When I want your opinion, I'll start paying you for it."
"You watch your mouth, you old bastard." Janet stepped through
the curtain, and the first thing Bo saw was her eyes, huge and brown and
slightly bulging. With her combed-up puff of mousy brown hair and her
slightly puckered mouth, she had the inquisitive look of a large rat.
Her tight blue and tan shirt showed off her small, slightly sagging
breasts. "What can we do you for, son?"
Bo hated it when anyone called him son. Even his own mother had
just called him "kid". She waited, and her attention made him sweat, as
if she were waiting for him to name some wild and illegal form of
perversion, or perhaps waiting for him to run away.
"She's got long, wavy black hair and blue eyes. Slender. She
looks Black Irish, if you know what I mean." Bolander looked around, as
if invoking the description might cause the package containing her to
stand up of its own volition, call to him, plead to be taken home. "I
saw her here once before, but I don't remember her name."
"I know what you're talking about. There's only three on
tri-disk, and the other two are blondes." Janet slipped into the back
room before Bo knew she was leaving. There was nothing mousy about the
way she moved. She was quick and lithe, and when she returned, she
seemed to glide to a stop in front of him, the package in her hand
waving under his nose like the bough of a tree in a breeze. "This her?"
Bo tried to speak, but only managed to mouth the word, "Yes."
"Cash, or we can debit it discreetly from your personal
account?" Abbe finally asked. Bo handed over the tightly rolled wad of
large bills he'd picked up at the bank. Abbe unrolled the money and
handed it to Janet. "Cash customer. The mark of a real gentleman.
Always deals in bills."
"There's only eight thousand here," Janet said after counting
the stack twice. "Perpetual license is fifteen."
The words made Bo go cold, the way looking into the rearview
mirror and seeing police lights turns the flesh to gel. He couldn't
wait long enough to save up another seven. Not after coming here and
seeing her up close. If he left without her, he'd lose his nerve,
probably spend most of the cash on booze, trying to forget about the
"What can I get for that?" he asked, his voice dry and cracked.
She thought about it several seconds.
"One year unlimited usage license, renewable or upgradable at
"Whatever. I'll take it." Bo didn't even have to consider the
options. He could come up with the other seven in a year's time. What
mattered was having her, now. Janet filled in the license agreement and
coded the init disk while Abbe bagged the purchase. Somehow, Bo had
imagined her coming gift wrapped, not tucked into a brown paper bag.
Seeing her face there, shadowed by the coarse, unbleached paper, a touch
of reality tickled at the back of Bo's mind. After all, she was just a
"Good call, kid. You'll like her. She learns how to be the lay
of your lifetime. Anything you want, she does it. Here you go." Abbe
handed him the bag, and the clean smell of him broke the morbid spiral
of Bo's thoughts. He took the bag and left, glancing back once to wave,
awkwardly, at Janet and Abbe, deep down, perhaps, wondering what they
thought of him.
Outside, in the fading heat, he turned down the block, avoiding
the pressing gauntlet of pimps and pushers. A bus was just pulling into
the stop at the corner, and he dashed to make it, slipping through the
doors as the old diesel bus groaned away from the curb. He ran his pass
through the reader and slipped to the back of the bus. He was alone
there except for a small, slightly heavy blonde woman in a business suit
and white sneakers, who was reading a self-help guide to AIC
interfacing. She didn't even look up when Bo collapsed to the seat
across from her.
It was full dark outside, or as dark as Boston ever gets at
night, the humidity like a curtain dimming the streetlights. All the
lights were out on the bus, but Bo could still see to read. He pulled
her package from the bag and started going over every detail, the specs
on the back, the advertisers' pitch on either side. He'd seen it all in
the magazine ads. Then , on the front, he stared several long,
breathless seconds into her eyes.
I'm just going to read the documentation, he swore to himself.
Just the docs. He slipped the tip of his pocket knife into a crease in
the cellophane wrapper, slit it all the way around the bottom, and slid
the top slowly off the box. A breath of flowers, gardenias and lilacs,
rich but too sweet, drifted up to him from the perfumed papers inside.
Bo would have thought it tacky, had he not been so thoroughly
enthralled. Wrapped in another cellophane bag, tucked under the curled
and creased paperwork, she was there. Not much to look at, just a shiny
gold and green ROM disk and a plastic-coated magnetic RAM, sandwiching a
thick black MASIC wafer. The plastic mounting piece was the same color
as the ROM. Without a second thought, he broke his oath, reached into
his canvas bag, and pulled out his 'Face.
The slim black case was no thicker than a old cassette player,
with one slender wire that snaked back to a power cell in Bo's bag and
another thicker wire with a gold, brush-shaped probe attached to the
end. Bo pulled aside his hair and flipped open the cover of his jack
with the same quick, casual ease as someone pops out a contact lens. An
electric tingle ran across the base of his scalp as he slid the probe in
and secured it with a half-twist.
Being wired was like being inside the TV looking out, like being
the electron, fired toward the phosphor screen and becoming part of the
image. Being wired was visual, aural, olfactory, tactile. So
wonderfully tactile. Even the startup routine was a caress that ran the
length of his body, the light, tender touch of a friend that would have
tickled him if it hadn't felt so good. It was the breath of a lover on
bare skin, a mother touching the cheek of her sleeping child. All by
itself, it was worth the risks of wiring, worth the loneliness of nights
lost on the net, the madness, the days when the headaches made his
vision turn red.
Bo ran his imprinted thumb over a hidden sensor, and a panel
slid away with a barely audible sigh. He fit the media into the slot,
and the gold plastic mounting clip came away in his hand. He fed the
thumbnail-sized init disk into another slot and waited. Words in red
floated in his lower peripheral vision, seen as if through the lens of
Configuring to Aminoff-4 interface ...stand by ....
Then she was beside him, quiet and prim, reading a book of
poetry. His eyes wandered over her, soaking in the details of her
smooth, pale wrists, the thick tweed of her skirt, the blue-black sheen
of her hair. She glanced at him out of the corner of her eye, and she
Hello? Her voice was much lower than he'd imagined,
soft as a down comforter in winter. There was more, though, a depth of
understanding and a predisposition to laughter.
"What are you reading?" He became self-conscious about trying
to look over her shoulder and scooted away, putting most of a seat
between them. His eyes fixed on a blemish in the blue plastic of the
bench where he'd just been sitting.
"Oh." One of the hot bands on the club set was making fistfuls
of loot reading Rimbaud's poetry while playing ragged jazz and electric
guitar solos. Bo thought they sounded like posers, so he never
listened. But he still recognized the name.
I'm Sarah-Belle. I prefer just Sarah. Her voice drew
his eyes up from the seat to her own, and something passed between them,
some exchange of trust that Bo knew, deep down, was simply excellent
programming. It caught him off guard, and he opened up to her without
another thought. He smiled, for the first time in longer than he could
"My name's Jack, but I go by Bo."
Voulez-vous etre mon beau? His 'Face subtitled it for
him, in yellow, just below her lips.
"Don't speak French," he said anyway. "I don't like the way it
sounds." There was the barest pause, a slight flicker around the edges
of her cheeks, a minor realignment of her straight, dark brow. Bo
glanced down, and her book was Donne instead.
"Make love to me." He said it almost before he knew he was
going to. The look on her face was a intermingling of amusement,
interest, indignation and irritation. He felt somehow he'd broken the
rules, and even after he consciously realized the rules were his to
make, he still felt uncomfortable under the study of her clear blue-gray
Here? I don't think that's a good idea.
"Yes, here." He'd said it, and though he wanted to back down,
he couldn't. He wouldn't be chastised by a circuit board, even if it
was a Turing chip and probably smarter than he was.
Here? she asked again, teasing him with the unspoken
promise in her voice. She ran one finger down the side of his neck, and
with the other hand, she began untying the sleeves of his fatigue shirt.
Right here? Are you sure? I've never done anything like this
In the lower left of his vision, a single pale icon appeared,
pulsing every several seconds, DaVinci's Balanced Man, an indication
from his 'Face that he'd entered a much deeper level of input, directly
to the tactile centers of his brain. Everything that happened, while it
was lit, would be confined to the spaces of his mind, every spoken word,
every touch, every kiss. Like a dream, but a dream that paralyzed his
voluntary nervous system. His awareness of the world faded to
peripheral. Only a few telltale twitches betrayed the activity taking
place in the small black box and in his mind.
Bo started to speak, but Sarah silenced him with a kiss, and her
lips were soft, forgiving. She had the kiss of someone who smiled
often, a kiss that gave way under his, that parted for him and drew him
in deep, the softest, most passionate kiss he'd ever had. It relaxed
him and drove him to the edge of panic all at once. His pulse pounded
in his neck, in his temples, but he felt secure, warm, and content. The
kiss said she loved him.
Without breaking the kiss, she slipped onto his lap, wrapped her
arms around his neck, ran her fingers though his hair, across his cheek,
down his chest. She touched his right thigh, tingling where in reality
he had only numb scar tissue. Slowly her fingers walked up the front of
his jeans to the zipper, touching lightly, teasing, exploring, finding.
She pressed her hand against him, squeezed him through the ragged denim.
Bo felt release at last, and he let out a small, whimpering moan.
Sarah broke the kiss, pulled back enough she could see his eyes.
Her smile was sly, but her eyes were delighted. With her fingertips,
she stroked him firmly, and he tried to smile before embarrassment got
the better of him.
We're going to have to do something about this, she
burst into laughter as he sheepishly rolled his eyes. Her laugh was as
light as sunshine after a cloudburst, but at the same time just a bit
silly, and still heartfelt. It reassured him, told him she was not
laughing at him but because he made her happy. Bo melted into her
laughter, closed his eyes and savored the sound as much as the sweet
taste of her mouth that lingered on his lips.
She unzipped his jeans with both hands, took care that nothing
caught or snagged. She spread her skirt over his lap and settled onto
him, unbuttoned her white blouse, revealed small, round breasts, pale as
clouds, and peach nipples. Sarah paused when she saw the expectant,
frightened, slightly horrified look on Bo's face. Sarah winked and
smiled a slow easy smile.
"Hey." He smiled back and knew he was ready. She threw her
head back and slid onto him with a pleased moan. A tingle ran down the
length of Bo's body, arched his back, tightened every muscle.
Microcurrents ran the length of his body, analog touch poured directly
into his brain. Her scent drifted up to him, floral and spicy,
enticing. She was there, and she was wonderful. Sarah rocked back and
forth, smiling, eyes closed. Bo found the pleasure she took from him
more erotic, more stimulating, than the feel of her. She made love to
his ego, and it drove him over the edge. She collapsed onto him, her
head on his shoulder, and kissed his neck. Sarah kept him afterward,
squeezing him with quick, tight squeezes that sent a new wave of
endorphins flushing through his body.
Finally, she sat back, let Bo look at her, let his eyes and his
mind drink in the woman who had just made love to him. Her hair
cascaded around her shoulders like dark silk. For the first time Bo
touched her face, found it warm and smooth, her hair soft as cashmere.
Sarah turned to kiss his palm before she spoke.
Isn't your stop soon?
"I think we passed it."
Oh. Sarah gave him a quick kiss on the lips and winked
suddenly, reappearing beside him prim and immaculate once again. The
thin volume of Donne lay beneath her folded hands, and she looked
exactly as she had before except for the sated smile and casually
flirtatious wink she gave him. The DaVinci icon faded, and Bo was free
to move once more.
He started to get up and felt the slick, sticky wetness soaking
through his jeans. He pulled his rucksack across his lap, blushing a
deep scarlet. He hit the bell and yelled for the rear door.
"You said it was a bad idea, didn't you."
It's okay. Sarah caressed his shoulder through the thin
cotton of his T-shirt. She broke into a broad, enthusiastic grin and
rolled her eyes. Okay? It was great! They both laughed as the
squealed to a stop several blocks west of Bo's apartment.
As he bounded down the steps and into the damp, oppressive
Boston night, Bo heard the blond woman mutter, "Wire-head freak." Her
epithet drove home the reality to him, that Sarah was just a program,
that he was a loser stuck in a fantasy. Then Sarah took his hand, and
they walked home together, strolling and chatting like long-time lovers.
By the time they reached his place, he'd made the unconscious decision
that whatever they had together beat the hell out of his reality apart.
"Gotta turn you off," Bo said when they reached the door. "Ron
goes batshit if I wire in the house, and we've been fighting all day."
Before she could speak, he thumbed the power stud and unjacked, then
stuffed the 'Face back in his rucksack.
The apartment was nearly empty when he opened the door. A
couple pillows on the floor and milk crates used as a table. All of
Ron's AV gear was gone, as was his computer and the beatup brown sofa
where Bo sometimes fell asleep. Bare hardwood floors littered with
empty fast-food drink cups and microwave burrito wrappers greeted Bo
informed him that something was very wrong. He checked the door again
to make sure it had been locked. It was.
"Hey, Ron?" Bo checked his room, found it as he'd left it, then
checked Ron's. The futon was still there, but the tangle of silk sheets
was gone. The houseplants and bookshelves no longer filled the corners.
Bo's footsteps echoed off the bare plaster walls. "That bastard."
Bo found a note on the refrigerator. "Bo, gotta jam. Moved in
with Elisa. Later." He'd emptied the fridge, too. Bo went to his room
and curled up in the pile of blankets on his bed. He didn't feel like
changing clothes or showering, just sleeping it off and worrying in the
morning. Worry refused to wait, and after staring at the water marks on
his ceiling for almost an hour, he reached for his ruck, for the comfort
of her company.
Sarah wore a white silk camisole that reached mid-thigh and fell
loosely across her breasts. When she dropped to her hands and knees to
kiss him, it dropped away from her, and Bo saw all the way down the
pale, tight curve of her belly. Her body stirred something inside him,
but instead, he said, "Can we just talk?"
What's up? She flickered at the edges again before
down beside him in a half-lotus. She wore an I-Love-NY nightshirt which
she pulled down over her knees.
"Ron moved out. No notice or anything." Bo pulled a pillow
into his lap and hugged it tight. "He was a real shit, but at least he
was company. And I needed him to pay the rent."
Well, we can find you another roommate, right?
"I hope so." For a while, Bo just stared off across the room,
realizing after a while he was gazing at the stacks of AIC and MASIC
discs piled in a milk crate in his closet. He could sell off most of it
and pay for another month, if he got ten cents on the dollar for his
original investment. He'd have to find a real sucker to pay those
prices for unlicensed disks. He considered selling his 'Face and paying
for a half-year, in advance, or taking Sarah back and using the cash to
get out of the city, move some place cheaper. He regretted throwing the
suit's business card away, even though he could probably find the guy
again if he tried.
I'll help you find something. In the morning, Come to bed
with me, Bo? You need rest.
"Sarah, why are you so good to me?"
She didn't answer for a while, long enough that Bo wondered if
he'd hit a glitch in the softsoft. You make me laugh. I like being
with you. I don't exist without you. She took his hand in both of hers,
her touch warming and reassuring. She made him feel needed.
"I guess you don't." Somehow, her need for him felt like a
responsibility, a reason to work it out. He knew he'd been smudging the
line all evening, and finally physical reality was merging with volative
reality somewhere in the wire. He knew better than to lose touch, but
in the end, it didn't matter to him all that much. "I'm really
We'll come up with something. I'll help you. You have
unlimited usage, remember? I'm not just some AIC-format slut. I think.
And I'm clever. She kissed his neck, insistent. Come to
Suddenly, physical and emotional exhaustion pulled at his
limbs, insistent. "You're right. I need to sleep."
He rolled over and reached for the power stud on the 'Face's black
box, but Sarah stopped him with a hand on his shoulder. No. I don't
like it when you turn me off, she said. She curled up tightly beside
him, and the DaVinci icon faded into his vision.
Leave the power
on. I need to think.