Laveda Pruitt finally bought a computer. After decades of pestering from her children and grandchildren she went out and made the fateful purchase.
She’d read an article in Mature Living about using a computer to make genealogies come alive to young people. Now that her favorite granddaughter had made her a great-grandmother, Laveda knew it was time to act.
So she went out alone and on the sly to the only retail store she’d ever trusted, Montgomery Ward. The salesboys (they were getting younger all the time) must have thought the old lady had gone completely round the bend. But she knew what she wanted to do and they guided her to a suitable system. They assured her it was the essence of ease to operate. It would even tell her what to do, they said.
A talking machine? Perfect, one more nitwit to tell her what to do.
The neighbors’ boy had brought it all in from the car and even set it up for her. Now she sat staring at it, pinching her lower lip with her fingers. “Laveda, you silly girl, just turn the contraption on.” A shaking hand floated to the button.
The box whirred and clicked and beeped. The TV part came on and flashed through screens too quickly for Laveda to read. She felt her tension escalate. What should she be doing now? The screens changed too briskly for her to react. Maybe she’d already ruined the whole machine.
“Dad burn it! Why’d they have to invent something that was this hard to—”
A little yellow bunny appeared on the screen, amid a field of grass. Cheery music piped from somewhere. The rabbit hopped up a brown path, stopping to eat a dandelion.
Laveda smiled in spite of herself. “Cute.”
The rabbit looked up from its roughage. Tall ears perked toward Laveda. “Oh, hello,” the bunny said. “I didn’t see you there.”
Laveda didn’t move. This was obviously some prerecorded welcome program. She waited for it to go on. It didn’t. The rabbit went back to its meal.
The worst of it was the indecision Laveda felt. She was so nervous around this infernal machine. It expected her to know what to do. She should know what to do! But she didn’t. She looked around for her owner’s manual.
The bunny looked up. “Hello again. Are you my new master?”
Laveda couldn’t resist a look behind her. No, no one else there. But surely this cartoon character couldn’t see her. She stuck her thumbs in her ears and flapped her hands at it.
The bunny imitated her.
Laveda looked up to the corners of her sitting room, as if a secret camera might have been installed while she was out. On the screen the bunny looked around too, imitating her.
“Hee-hee,” it said. “This is fun. Can you do this?” It did a somersault.
Laveda was flummoxed. The critter gave every indication of being able to see and hear her. The boys had said the computer would talk to her.
“Can you really see me?”
The rabbit, which had been standing on its head, jumped back down to all fours. “Of course I can see you. Don’t you see my eye?” A cartoon computer appeared on the green grass. The bunny hopped over and pointed at a spot on the TV box. “See it on yours?”
Laveda saw it now. A little glass circle embedded in the top of the monitor. “Where’s your ears then?”
The rabbit grabbed its yellow ears and tugged. “What do you call these?” It giggled and did another somersault. “I’m only teasing! I have a microphone right…here.” It pointed at the spot on the cartoon computer.
“Oh,” Laveda said, touching the curved rod snaking out from the side of the monitor. “I thought that was one of those bendable lights.”
“Are you my new master?”
Laveda smiled softly. She felt herself calming down. “It appears I am.”
“What’s your name?”
“Is that what you want me to call you, ‘Laveda Pruitt’?”
“Why not just call me Laveda.”
“All right, Laveda.”
“What’s your name?”
At this the yellow rabbit seemed to wilt. Its ears sagged and its forehead wrinkled. “I don’t have a name. Could you give me one?”
Laveda felt her confidence growing by the moment. Far from being controlled by this contraption, she was controlling it. Even giving it a name. Wait till she told the kids what she’d done!
“Yes, from the movie. Jim Stewart’s invisible rabbit.”
“Hello, Laveda. I’m Harvey.”
“Wonderful! Splendid. Oh, this is good fun.”
“You and I can do lots of fun things together, Laveda. We can write letters and balance your checkbook and talk to your friends and family on GlobeNet and even play games. Would you like to play a game, Laveda? I’m very good at tic-tac-toe.”
“Sure, Harvey. Let’s play.”
They were on their fourth game—with Laveda ahead 2-1—when the doorbell rang. “Stay here, Harvey. Someone’s at the door.”
“I’m not going anywhere, Laveda.”
It was some dear thing selling chocolates to raise money for a band trip. Laveda always tried to help out with these, but tonight she was feeling so giddy she actually bought everything the girl had left.
She walked back to the sitting room and popped a cherry-filled confection into her mouth. “Alright, Harvey,” she said, looking for a chocolate that might have an almond in it. “What I really want to do is spice up my genealogy collection. Can you help me with that?”
When Harvey didn’t answer, Laveda looked up. And started so sharply she upset the whole box of chocolates.
Harvey hung from a tree, swinging on the end of a noose.
A hateful, scowling voice said: “Harvey’s not here, Laveeeeda. Play with me instead.”
The image of the green field burned away like paper. Something sharply outlined, three dimensional, poked its head through as if from behind.
It looked like a demon.
“Play with me, Laveeeeda.”
* * *
The Lonely Hearts Virtual Bar never closed. The regulars logged in after work—and sometimes during—from wherever they lived on planet Earth. At this GlobeNet tavern every day was Friday and every hour was happy.
Brock Calcutta (not his real name, need it be said?) strode through the entrance and took the whole scene into his—he hoped—commanding gaze.
The bar was crowded with virtual singles. Virtual in the sense that each patron had donned a computer-generated representation before entering. And virtual in the sense that some of the singles were, in fact, not.
Brock saw the usual collection of buxom platinum blondes and steroid-enhanced body builders—the staple of Lonely Hearts. Some wiggled on the blue-strobed dance floor, others loitered at the long wooden bar. A few looked him over. The music was agreeable to Brock and the atmosphere suitably “happenin’.” This was his Mecca.
And there, sitting alone in a secluded table for two, was his salvation. She didn’t know it yet, of course. She was different from the other girls. She had straight brown hair, medium length. She was dressed nicely, but not provocatively. She seemed to be making no effort to attract attention to herself. Which was exactly what drew Brock’s attention.
He crossed the floor slowly, yet with purpose. He paused once when a new song came on, snapped his fingers a few times, then continued across, all the while keeping the lady’s table in peripheral view. e stopped right in front of her table, then looked around as if he’d suddenly materialized on the spot.
“Whoa!” he said. “Deja vu.” He looked down at the lady then. The clumsy GlobeNet interface hid the interest her eyes no doubt held for him at that moment. “Do you ever get that feeling,” he asked her, “when you feel like you’ve done the exact thing before?”
The brunette smiled a cute little smile and shrugged.
“Because I—do you mind if I sit?” He didn’t wait for her answer. “I sometimes get that feeling. Like just now. I could swear I’ve been right here before, just like this. I stand there, I see you. Whoa, the thing just keeps going. In my head I see me sitting down talking to you, just like we are now! Isn’t that incredible?”
“Oh, I agree.”
Brock pointed at an imaginary person over the girl’s shoulder. “Hey, Mick. Good to see ya.” He tapped his foot to the music and looked everywhere but at the woman across the table from him.
The truth was he didn’t know what to do next. He’d never gotten this far with anyone before. They usually gave him the “Shove off, loser” line long before this point. He liked this girl already.
“Hey,” he said to her, braving her eyes, “what’s your name?”
“My name’s Regina Lundquist. What’s your name?”
“Calcutta. Brock Calcutta.” He reached out his virtual hand, which she took. “Nice to meet you.”
“Oh, I agree.”
“So, tell me about yourself, Regina.”
“Well, there’s not much to tell, really. I’m five-four, I weigh 124 pounds, I’m a brunette, and I’m twenty-one years old. I live on campus at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, where I’m studying psychology. Yoseph Krueger made me what I am today. I live by myself now; he set me free. But I still come whenever he calls.”
Brock had no clue what she was talking about. He nodded anyway. Regina went on blithely. “I’m a big fan of the Cleveland Indians. Did you know that Cy Young played for the Indians in 1910 and 1911?”
Brock shook his head. “So you look in real life pretty much like what I see now?”
“What you see is what you get, Brock.”
“Tell me about yourself, Brock.”
Brock Calcutta launched into his rehearsed bit about his life and eventual plans to become a neurobiologist. His mouth was on auto-pilot. Brock was beginning to feel something he hadn’t anticipated. He didn’t know what it was about her, but he felt he could tell this woman anything.
He assumed, anyway, that she was a woman. At the Lonely Hearts Virtual Bar you could never be sure. The persona someone wore wasn’t necessarily an accurate representation of much of anything. Take himself, for example. Probably no one believed he was truly the part-hunk, part-genius, part-Elvis demigod they saw before them.
He finished his soliloquy, concluding with a harangue about the miserable state of current neurobiology research and his vow to revolutionize it. He checked—yup, she was still there. Watching him, listening. Unbelievable. In the face of her unqualified acceptance all his hypocrisies began to crumble. He admitted to himself how far his reality was from the image he projected. He felt himself melting into the mother’s love of Regina Lundquist.
“Tell me more, Brock.”
“Okay. Sure.” He hesitated, glancing at the hallway to the couples’ area of the tavern, the so-called Lovers’ Lounge. In reality the virtual bedrooms were no more than private conversation spaces, since not much actual hanky-panky was possible between artificial bodies. “What do you say we move someplace quieter?”
“I’m not sure I understand, Brock.”
“Oh, that’s okay. I didn’t mean to imply that… What I thought was… Well, you were just listening—and we were talking! And I just, you know, thought we could go somewhere a little less, I don’t know, crowded or something. But that’s okay, here’s fine.”
Regina stared at him silently. Brock cursed his inability to pierce the GlobeNet barrier and read her body language.
“Do you like sports, Brock?”
Brock sighed. “Sure, I guess.”
“I like baseball. The Cleveland Indians are my favorite team. What’s yours?”
“Uh, I don’t know. I don’t really watch all that much baseball, actually.”
“Did you know that Cy Young played for the Indians?”
“You told me already.”
“What? Am I repeating myself? Sorry, Brock. What were you saying?”
The strain was too much for him. He thought he’d blown it with this chick. But now she wanted to talk baseball. Cool as a cucumber. Like nothing ever happened. Okay, if she could jump topics like crazy, he could too. He couldn’t hold his next request back any longer. It rang in his head like a ridiculous song. After twenty or so silent repetitions, he finally let it out. “Kiss me, Regina.”
“Kiss me.” He stood up and grabbed her shoulders. He tried to find her lips with his, but she pushed him away.
“Stop it, Brock. Help! Somebody get this pervert away from me!”
That was all she had to say. Lonely Hearts was crawling with losers all waiting for their chance to save a damsel in distress. Brock was instantly surrounded by muscle-bound paladins. Probably not a one among them over a hundred pounds in real life, Brock thought.
“Hey, man,” one said, “leave the lady alone.”
“Take a hike,” said another, adding a moronic epithet.
Regina was on her feet, headed for the door. Brock called after her.
“Wait! I’m sorry, Regina. I take it back. Please come back.” The bouncers blocked his path toward her. When he finally got past them she was gone.
“I’ll find you, Regina. I’ll find you.” Brock Calcutta sat right down on the floor. “I need you.”
* * *
The elf emerged from the trees as if from thin air.
The wizard Konach jumped, twitchy as usual. He nearly shot a lightning bolt at the newcomer. He stifled the spell and proceeded to curse the elf mercilessly.
There were five of them now: the elf, whose name was Tyr; the wizard, Konach; the giant, Einstein; Mara, their priestess; and Ingram, the ranger who led them. They gathered around the elf, who was their scout.
“You were gone so long, Tyr,” Mara said. “We were starting to worry.”
Tyr gazed at the beautiful priestess longingly. “Do you mean it, Mara?”
“Cut it out, Tyr,” Ingram said. Ever since he’d become their leader he’d lost his sense of humor. The ranger grabbed the elf and turned him away from the girl. “What did you see on the path ahead?”
“Oh, nothing,” Tyr said. “Just a camp of Bez’s kobolds.”
Konach snapped out of his funk. “What!”
“Tyr,” Ingram said evenly, “how many of them were there?”
“I don’t know. Twenty, thirty.”
“Marvelous,” Konach said.
Ingram shut his eyes and heaved a sigh. “We have to replan.”
Mara touched Ingram’s arm. “Can we beat thirty kobolds?”
“No,” Ingram said. “Tyr, give me your map. We’ll have to go around.”
The elf handed over the map. He took a step toward Mara. A belt buckle suddenly blocked his view. Tyr didn’t look up. “Hello, Einstein.”
“Hello, little elf,” said the giant. He was a giant only in the relative sense. No Godzilla movies for him. Einstein was roughly seven and a half feet tall. Tyr tried to go around, but the circumference was too great.
“Did you see any fawns, little elf?”
“No, Einstein, I didn’t see any fawns. Or squirrels or bunnies or puppies, so don’t ask.”
The giant was disappointed. “Didn’t you see any baby animals at all?”
“No,” the elf said. “Wait, I take that back. I did see a baby bird.”
“A bird! A baby bird! What was the baby birdie doing, little elf? Was it hatching, was it eating, was it trying to fly?”
Tyr sneered. “It was dead, Einstein. Dead! Smushed on the ground like a bug.”
Einstein’s body sagged. “Oh, no. The poor little birdie. Smushed? Oh, no.” He lumbered away, close to tears. Mara went after him.
Ingram brought the map to Tyr. “Why do you do that? You know how sensitive he is.”
The elf looked at the ranger. “Who cares? He’s just a—”
“I know what he is,” Ingram said. “Still, he’s part of our group now. Try to be nice to him.”
“He’s alright. So, what’s the new pl—”
Mara’s cry interrupted him.
Konach pulled out his magical artifacts. “It’s the kobolds!”
“No it isn’t,” Tyr snapped. “They’re the other way.”
Ingram drew his sword and came to stand beside Einstein. “What is it, my friend?”
“I didn’t see too good. It looked like something fell from the sky.”
“Mara, did you get a good look at it?”
“Yes, Ingram. It looked like a man. He came from the sky, but he wasn’t flying, really, and he didn’t fall. Sort of gliding.”
“Just one man?” Tyr scoffed. “Dream on.” He took the arrow from the string and replaced it in his quiver. “Just let Einstein go chop his head off. Come on, Ingram, show me your plan.”
“There was something else,” Mara said.
“What?” Ingram said.
“He wasn’t all human.”
Ingram looked at her over his shoulder. “What do you mean?”
“His face shone, like he was armored in plate. But only on one side. The other side was flesh. And I saw…”
Tyr was at Ingram’s side, suddenly excited. “What is this, Ingram? Some kind of new enemy?” He whispered the next word into the ranger’s ear: “Cyborg?”
“No!” Ingram said. “Mara, what? What else did you see?”
“I saw pink.”
Konach chuckled. “Pink?”
The wizard’s laughter was well on its way to becoming maniacal when a pine tree crashed to the ground near Einstein. The trunk was severed at waist-height. It was a clean cut, almost like an execution. The intruder stepped into the open.
He was a vision from another era. Black leather jacket. Chrome chains. Buckled boots. Sawed-off shotgun. Definitely out of place in their medieval forest. The left side of his face was a molded silver mask. He had spiked blonde hair and, on his left arm, a cast—fluorescent pink. From his right hand dangled a glowing red cord. This he whipped at the felled tree, and it fell apart again as if made of butter.
“What is this, Ingram?” Tyr asked.
“I was just about to ask you the same question, elf. Have you been messing with my stuff again?”
“Why do you always blame me?”
Mara stepped out from the group and addressed the intruder. “We are not your enemies. Let us pass each other in peace.”
The intruder raised his shotgun. “No chance, baby. Planned obsolescence time for you.”
“Mara, get back here,” Tyr said.
But the priestess held her ground. She drew from her robes a powerful holy symbol and raised it at the intruder. “Then in the name of the white goddess I command you, Begone, foul creature. Go! Return to the abyss from whence you—”
“Hasta la vista, baby.” The cyborg chambered another shell into his smoking gun.
The companions leapt forward. The giant swung his battle-axe; Tyr launched arrow after arrow, tears in his eyes; Ingram hacked at the intruder with his sword; Konach summoned the lightning bolt from before.
The cyborg was more than equal to their challenge. Three more shotgun blasts took Einstein to his knees and shattered Ingram’s shield. Tyr dropped his bow, drew his sword, and rushed into the fray—and almost had his head taken off by the red cord.
At last they turned the corner on the intruder. Konach’s Hold spell kept the cyborg from running. Ingram and Einstein hewed at him as at a tree; Tyr collected his arrows and pincushioned the foe. When the final blow came, Einstein’s axe met not flesh nor steel, but air. The intruder had disappeared.
The companions sank to their knees. They had not even the enemy’s body there to offset the loss of Mara, to show her they’d avenged her murder.
“Okay,” Ingram said. “That’s enough.” He took off his helmet.
“Penny, save game.”
A woman’s voice floated down, absurdly calm: “Game saved.”
The forest disappeared. The companions disappeared. “Program terminated.”
“You still there, Jordan?” Ethan Hamilton asked.
“Yeah, Ingram,” the boy said. “I mean Dad.”
Both voices were disembodied. The conversation was conducted audio only, as in the days before vidphones.
“Are you sure you haven’t been messing with my files, son? Maybe gotten your stuff mixed in with mine?”
“Dad! When have I ever done cyberpunk?”
“Do you think it was somebody from the outside?”
“Had to be.”
“But I thought our new house was cut off from the outside world.”
“It usually is, son,” Ethan said. “But I’m not there, remember? I’m still in Portland.”
“We had to open up the house’s system so you and I could play our little game.”
“So somebody got in? Wow. Do you think we killed him?”
“It was just a game, son. Now, it’s late. Let’s get off the computers, okay?”
“Just make sure you reset the security lockout before you go up, please.”
“Okay, Dad. You know, that was way cool. You should think about converting Falcon’s Grove totally over to cyberpunk!”
“Never! Now get to bed, young man. I’ll see you all at the airport tomorrow morning.”
Click here to buy Terminal Logic at Amazon.
Ethan's new home in East Texas is modeled on my uncle's home and forest property in the same area. I spent many a won-drous holiday walking those woods.